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The fate of the Congress after the recent state polls




The state of a political party can be determined just on the basis of what its workers celebrate. So, in the past couple of weeks, the Congress has celebrated the failure of the BJP attempt to unseat the Congress from the government of the state of Uttarakhand, it has celebrated a few councillor seats in Delhi due to bypolls, and it has half-heartedly tried to celebrate the fact that the BJP did not make much headway in Kerala and Tamil Nadu (although the BJP did win an assembly seat in Kerala, which is a big achievement for the party since it has always failed to open its account in the state).
In the midst of all this, the Congress party is yet to answer the question about how to will reverse the series of losses in states and the center that have happened since 2013, with states across the Hindi heartland either dumping the Congress or re-electing the BJP Government. So, states such as Chattisgarh and Punjab, where the Congress was in opposition, were expected to be in play for the Congress to take over, and there was expected to be anti-incumbency in states such as Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, where the BJP had been ruling for multiple terms. However, all of those were states where the Congress failed to gain power, particularly states in the Hindi heartland, states that have huge populations and hence matter a lot both in terms of perception and in terms of numbers of Lok Sabha seats. At the time of the first Delhi elections where both the Congress and the BJP had won some seats but the AAP (a novice party without the required political experience) had won a larger chunk of seats and the Congress had hence lost power, the heir apparent of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, had declared that they will learn lessons from the way that AAP had managed to take over and would implement changes.

However, there have been multiple elections that have come and gone, and there does not seem to be any real changes in the Congress. During the second terms of the UPA regime (from 2009-2014), the Congress had come to represent corruption and arrogance (with such arrogant ministers such as Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid, Chidambaram, and numerous others), and the amount and number of corruption scams that rocked the Government brought out a huge distaste in the population against the Congress, and not even the supposed honesty of Manmohan Singh could rescue the Government (he was seen as spineless with the Gandhis being the true power). As a result, in election after election, the Congress lost badly in state polls, letting the BJP retain power where it was already there and taking over where the Congress was ruling.
After the Lok Sabha elections, where the Congress got down to a miniscule size of 44 MP’s, it was expected that there might be some kind of change in the Congress. However, it turned even worse. It was pretty obvious that the party was not taking up issues really in the public domain, instead of just obstructing progress of bills in Parliament. And the leadership of Rahul Gandhi has left a lot to be desired. With the weakness in the central authority, it was expected that there would be more nuanced consideration of the interests of competing state leaders, but the perception seems to be that Rahul Gandhi decides to select one state leader and then cares little about the feelings of the other leaders (and where there is not really much benefit from the central leadership, ruffled state leaders decided to exit the party or make their feelings of hurt know). This has happened in Assam where the leadership decides to stick to Tarun Gogoi and apparently dealt pretty sternly with the others in the state party, causing the ruffled state leaders to jump into the arms of a waiting BJP, and these leaders have played a key role in the BJP victory in Assam.
It’s not that Rahul Gandhi does not sometimes listen, after all, when Amrinder Singh in Punjab threatened with leaving, he was given what he wanted and told that he was the leader of the party in Punjab. This was unusual, since any state leader who threatens something is promptly cut down to size, but the loss of Amrinder Singh might well have ensured a major loss in Punjab, and hence the change.
The problem is that Congress still does not have strong state leaders to enthuse the state level workers, and those that have been appointed are not exactly mass leaders (with many of them belonging to royalty and not really connected to the masses); and the public perception of corruption remains high. Scandals dating back to the Congress regime remain fresh, and to some extent, this concept of dynastic politics does put off a large section of the citizenry. The Congress may feel that it would help to project Priyanka Gandhi as the chief minister candidate in Uttar Pradesh, but the concept turns a lot of people off – she has no experience and is being projected just because she is a member of the Gandhi family and apparently also resembles Indira Gandhi to some extent. With such kind of thoughts and proposals, the party is certainly not going to be on the revival front anytime soon. The Governments where it is still present are not really presenting a picture of good governance, with neither Uttarakhand or Karnataka presenting a picture of states that are being run extremely well.




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