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The collapse of the Congress – going steadily down




The 2014 Lok Sabha elections were like a kick to the teeth of the Congress. Reaching a historic low of 44 parliamentary seats, and being totally elbowed out of the Hindi heartland would be a rude shock to the party, but it was not exactly a sudden disaster. State elections before the Lok Sabha election had conveyed exactly what would happen, and the corruption and non-performance of the UPA Government was visible to everyone. However, if one had expected some kind of soul-searching to happen in the party about what had happened, and what could be done, it was not going to happen. There was some talk about change and accountability, but such talk can only carry some weight if there is conviction behind it. After the state elections that happened prior to the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress lost them all and came out with a statement that it will change and try to ensure that it will listen to the rank and file.
However, soon enough it was clear that there was going to be no serious introspection. Soon after the Lok Sabha humiliation, the ritual of introspection happened – and what it did was pass full confidence in the leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, and this was the extent of introspection. However, when a party comes down in terms of power, there is an impact. Already, a number of Congressmen had moved to the BJP before the elections and won the Lok Sabha seats – this defiance of the Congress high command and their easy acceptability in the BJP should have further scared the Congress leadership. What this has managed to do is to reduce the power of the High command (the Gandhi family) and emboldened the party leaders in different states (depending on the abilities of these state leaders to make their demands).

One prime example is that of Captain Amarinder Singh. He realized the criticality of Punjab, and his position in the center of the Congress effort. As a result, he has taken chances that no other Congress leader could have done so in the past and survived on his position of power. His statements against Rahul Gandhi may have been couched in diplomatic terms, but it was an act of mutiny (by Congress standards), and yet he has continued in his position and essentially converted the Congress power in Punjab to one that he has dominated and leads; and Rahul Gandhi (even if he has to hold his nose) has agreed to this. Stuff to try to disrupt the power by putting in people such as Ambika Soni had been rejected, and the position of Amarinder Singh continues to remain high.
The same situation is there in other states. In the past, dissidents in a state would normally make an appeal to the High command, and if the current leader of the state Congress had a feeling of invincibility, then the high command would listen to the dissidents and shake the leader, or maybe change the leader altogether. However, that seems to be a thing of the past. Now, dissidents are almost always ignored, and sometimes they just lick their wounds and slink to come up another day, or sometimes decide that their is no future for them in the declining Congress and move (as the Assamese leader Himanta Biswa Sarma moved to the BJP and played a key role in turning the state from a Congress ruled one to a BJP ruled one). This is happening again and again, and state leaders are either pushing for their primacy, or moving out of the party (as Ajit Jogi finally decided to leave the Congress and since he does have a lot of appeal, this will push the Congress further down).
The problem for the Congress is, they have no viable way forward. There is no clear reason why Rahul Gandhi does not take over as the Congress President from Sonia Gandhi (the standard line is that this will happen in due course). The leadership is not inspiring, the BJP has the draw of power to draw dissidents from the Congress. Even something as clear as non-secret Rajya Sabha elections have shown that Congress state leaders and legislators no longer worry (something as unprecedented as Congress legislators from Haryana allowing their votes to be counted as invalid would never have happened just a few years back). But, there is still no sign of introspection – just Rahul Gandhi trying to show to the people how he is fighting against the BJP Government for the rights of poor and oppressed people – but it is not making a difference. The Congress has no real mass leaders, and will now essentially depend on mis-steps taken by the BJP Government to somewhat bring back popular support.




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