The Congress party was established in 1885 by Irish civil servant A.O. Hume. Since then it has seen many ups and downs. Many stalwart leaders from various sections and communities have been associated with the grand old party. It has seen many bad days but managed to survive and has even emerged victorious quite a few times too but the same Congress is now fighting tooth and nail for its survival. A long series of lost elections has created a huge question mark on the electoral presence and future of Congress. The party hasn’t even got the position of opposition in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections now. Its vote share has been below 20% in both the 2014 and 2019 general elections, which is the lowest the party has seen. At state level politics too, the Congress has carved a pattern of remaining out of power for decades in many states. INC has not been in power in Tamil Nadu for 55 years, West Bengal for 45 years, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for more than 30 years among many others. People have opted to vote for viable alternatives to Congress which suit their developmental, cultural or linguistic causes in states like Delhi, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. Certainly, since a party as old as the Congress is on the verge of demise, there are several causes which explain its current terminal condition, and some of them are addressed further.
The way Congress chooses its leaders for big posts can even surprise a layperson. Without much churning, main drivers from the central to the district level are determined. Parties generally provide significant positions to the wiser politicians and those who could benefit the party most but in the case of Congress, its doyens dented the growth of their own party rather than yielding positive results. For instance, Digvijay Singh’s unpopularity out marks his popularity and he is the biggest figure who repels votes from Congress in central India, Congress’s feeble condition in Madhya Pradesh is testimony to this fact. The statements made by Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram too have hurt the socio-religious sentiments of many Hindus, especially in cow-belt states. The fact that Congress didn’t take any disciplinary actions against anti-Hindu leadership suggests the party’s consent to such statements. However, Rahul Gandhi himself is the biggest failure in this chain. According to political scientist John Maxwell, the pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, and the leaders adjust the sails. But in Rahul Gandhi, there is no quality of adjusting the sail. Instead, he will be categorised as a pessimist who always criticizes Modi or Hindutva for his party’s failure.
Anti Hindu Stance
Will any late 90s or 21st century-born person believe that great Hindu thinkers like Aurobindo Ghose, Madan Mohan Malviya and Bal Gangadhar tilak were the pillars of Congress once upon a time? In the Nehruvian era, Congress shifted its stance towards so-called minority appeasement politics but the literacy rate of India was too low to understand the hidden politics of Nehru. Subsequently, Indira Gandhi also followed the trend of Nehruvian politics and added the word secular to the constitution after imposing an emergency by amending the soul of the constitution i.e. Preamble.
However, people were not aware then due to lack of communication technology and transport restraint but in this information-driven world where every information is available on the tip of the finger, Congress couldn’t hide its hatred for Hindus and Sanatan culture. Congress’s stand on Ram Mandir is well known to everyone and the demise of the party in Uttar Pradesh is only a result of their unpious stand. States ruled by Congress such as Rajasthan clearly showcase how the party opposes Hindu identity and appeases one minority community with full confidence. However, social media has exposed the party and it is highly unlikely that people will give a chance to Congress in Rajasthan in the next election.
The High Command Syndrome which has become the hallmark of the Congress party explains why youth no longer wants to associate themselves with a political party such as Congress which seems to exist only to please the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. There is no acceptance of mindless nepotism in 21st-century India. Rahul Gandhi has time and again failed to prove his leadership credentials and has now become the captain who’s making his ship sink. The Congress party’s score was a big 0 out of 5 in the recent assembly polls for five states. At such a crucial time, instead of strategy-building meetings, Rahul Gandhi went abroad, especially in a year when assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh too are scheduled to happen later. In December 2021 too he had flown abroad on a “personal visit”. It should not come as a surprise why Rahul Gandhi is perceived as a part-time Politician. This perception is also reinforced when voters see Rahul Gandhi as in charge in practices but not in formal theory, probably because he does not want to assume formal charge of the presidency since in that case, he would formally be responsible for all the political setbacks. Even after such a blatant lack of leadership, there’s no space or scope for grievance redressal for a common karykarta. Party’s top-down approach has rendered it out of sync with the emerging realities of society. People relate to Narendra Modi because of what he represents – a common man from an extremely humble background became the Prime Minister of India based on hard work and merit. BJP as a political party respects political and administrative talent and gives opportunities for it to flourish. Among many examples, Nirmala Sitharaman used to be a common spokesperson, and later became the first Women Defense Minister of India. Or Nitin Gadkari who started with pasting party posters on walls and ended up becoming the national president of the BJP. Such upwards mobility isn’t possible in Congress due to structural reasons. Most prominent Congress leaders are generational politicians and have inherited political legacies solely by luck or fate. We live in an India which has a 65% population below the age of 35, with such demographics nepotism based politics has no hope of survival.
Lack of serious leadership and absence of structural means to amend that has indeed weakened the party, but much damage is also due to continuously growing infighting and groupism. The situation in Punjab Congress validates this with Captain Amrinder Singh being ousted. Also, the differences between Channi and Sidhu are too visible to the public eye. Adding to this, former Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar resigned saying the party should have a ‘Chinta Shivir’ and not a ‘Chintan Shivir’. Similarly, a revamp in Congress leadership also happened in Kerala where groupism among members is deemed as one of the key reasons behind the party’s weakened condition and back-to-back defeats. The absence of space for constructive criticism in the organizational structure, lack of connection with common people, no direct line of communication and feedback from the electorate and alarming decline in flag bearing cadre of the Congress party should be reasons enough for a structural revamp if the party wants to ensure a respectable presence in the political spectrum.
Confusion on Ideological Agenda
Succumbing to the desperation for political power, Congress joined hands with the Muslim League in Kerala and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. While Indian Union Muslim League operates on the political mobilization of Muslims, Shiv Sena on the contrary has a strong history of being a Hindutva-based political party, hence, both are each other’s polar opposites. The ‘High Command’s Decree’ culture of the Congress party leaves its supporters embarrassed when they have to defend some contradictory, miscalculated and immature decisions taken by the top leadership in political debates against their competitors. Congress has been struggling with an identity crisis while unsuccessfully countering the Hindutva surge post-2014. With the Temple Run, calling himself a ‘janeu dhari Hindu’ and later a Shivbhakt, Rahul Gandhi has tried to present the Hindu Lite version of Congress which has been rejected by voters. However, this only tells how Congress has mistaken Indian voters to be people with diminished memory.
Since the same Congress in 2007 disputed the existence of Shri Ram, and the same Rahul Gandhi went a step ahead to say “people who go to temples, molest women”. This U-turn politics only reflects the ideological void Congress suffers from. Other than identity politics based on minority appeasement, the leftist welfarist policies for the poor over which Congress used to survive have also now been hijacked by the BJP who is also mostly delivering what it promises in the manifesto, unlike Congress.
Nevertheless, Congress now faces a serious exodus as many senior leaders have left the party. Jyotiraditya Scindia’s was a big resignation back in March 2020. Now, a veteran leader like Kapil Sibal resigned filing his nomination from the Rajya Sabha as an independent candidate but backed by the Samajwadi Party (SP). Sunil Jakhar who has been associated with Congress for 50 long years has now joined the BJP after questioning the way Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi was handling party affairs. With Gujarat assembly elections pending later this year, Hardik Patel too resigned writing an exposing letter wherein he stated how senior party leadership “was distracted by their mobile phones” and even criticized Rahul Gandhi for vacationing abroad at crucial times. Former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar who had given 46 years to Congress too left the party saying Congress no longer reflected the national mood. Whereas RPN Singh after leaving the Congress also said “party is no longer what it used to be”. Just as French Monarchy was sozzled in their shimmering luxuries away from the realities of commoners, the Gandhi Nehru dynasts too have gone oblivious to the ground realities of their own party. It’s almost as if Indian National Congress has become a textbook case of what a political party should Not do to win elections. When the NDA government in 1996 fell short of one vote which was being arrogantly mocked and laughed at by Congress, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his iconic speech said ‘you (Congress) can laugh all you want now, but there will come a time when the country will laugh at you’. At last, that stands true.
Authors: Prerna Sharma and Pushkar Kumar Jha
2nd Year Students of MA Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University.