Congress Party: An Agenda for Substantial Reform

The Debacle

The Grand Old Party of our nation Indian National Congress has faced one of the worst debacles in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. I am calling this defeat graver than 2014 although they have increased their presence in the lower house of the Parliament from 44 to 52 for various reasons.

2014 defeat was largely seen as a defeat due to widespread anti-incumbency wave against the ruling party due to various scams, inept handling of economy with inflation hitting the roof, frequent terror attacks on urban parts of the country and all this resulted in the venting of anger by the electorate. While the results of 2019 election are being read as a Pro-incumbency wave giving thumbs up to Modi’s policies as well as a rejection of Rahul Gandhi’s policies and his inability to give a progressive narrative to the aspiring class of New India. His Chowkidhar Chor Hai narrative has been widely rejected by the people and so is his promise of the final surgical strike on the poverty of the nation through his widely criticised NYAY scheme which failed to strike chords with the voters across the country.

The Final Nails in the Coffin?

The fact that Rahul Gandhi lost the election from the erstwhile family bastion of Amethi and 44% of the seats won (23 seats) by the Congress Party were from Kerala, Tamil Nadu & Pondichery shows the abysmal depths hit by the GOP. I would like to validate the reason by saying that the seats won by the Congress at Kerala and Tamil Nadu does not inspire confidence for the future of the party.

The vote in Kerala was against the ruling LDF born out of the anger on the Sabarimala issue. The seeds of this anger were sown by the Sangh Parivar through widespread protests organized by RW elements and was harvested by the Congress due to the absence of a credible local BJP face and lack of party machinery. Congress hardly has any presence in Tamil Nadu & it is a known fact in successive elections from 2011 to 2016. A glance at the vote share and results would vindicate this. The victory at Tamil Nadu is a result of its alliance with DMK and nothing more needs to be read into this.

Finally, the drubbing that the Congress party faced in the 3 states at Hindi heartland in spite of winning the assembly elections in December 2018 shows that the party is in steep decline and is staring at an existential crisis. The induction of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has not made any big difference to the fortunes of the party. The strike rates of Congress winning at places where both the Gandhi siblings conducted their rallies stands abysmally low at less than 20% while Modi’s strike rate is above 82%. That shows that there is a crisis of leadership in Congress party.

These are the reasons why I feel the drubbing of 2019 would hurt the party more than the debacle of 2014.

The Resignation and Some History

All these developments have led to the resignation of Rahul Gandhi as the President of the party which has not been accepted the CWC and the top leadership. 

Can the party survive without a Gandhi scion at the top is the biggest question that is going around in the media?

Yes, No & May be is the answer. This blog is not an attempt to answer this question in a traditional manner. I am here to give a bizarre idea which could be termed even outlandish. What I seek to predict is an easy & also an extremely tough way for the GOP of India to reinvent & revive. I am sounding paradoxical because if my idea is taken up then the party can revive in a sensational manner but the chances of this happening is bleak because of the egos involved and also the fact that who is to bell the cat.

Before I come to my idea let me take you back in times when Congress was strong. While the Congress party always drew its strength from a member of the Parivar holding the leadership reins it also had strong regional satraps holding fort at various states managing and cultivating the grassroot workers. This was the magical formula of the Congress in 1980’s when Indira Gandhi was able to stage a comeback after the drubbing in 1977 and successive victories posted in state elections in 1980’s. It had strong local leaders ranging from K.Karunakaran in Kerala to Madhavsinh Solanki in Gujarat to JB Patnaik in Odhisa to Sharad Pawar in Maharasthra and etc. Even in 2004 & 2009 Congress Party rode to power in Andhra Pradesh due to the charismatic leadership of YSR which also led to Congress taking a slender lead over the BJP in 2004 elections and in 2017 Captain Amarinder Singh delivered Punjab because of his Leadership. The absence of strong regional leaders is hurting Congress as much as the inept handling of Central Leadership.

The present-day narrative spun in the media by all and sundry on the role of Rahul Gandhi without addressing the importance of regional leadership & booth level workers is a myopic one. Listening to the lower rung party leaders and the party sympathizers in media about how Congress can stage a comeback very soon even after the debacle of May 23rdclearly shows how disconnected they are from the ground. It is laughable to listen to the most of these leaders and self-proclaimed political analysts.

The Congress Ghar wapsi

Hence the radical solution to this problem would be a Ghar Wapsi orchestrated by the Central Leadership of the Congress. Bring Mamata, Sharad Pawar and Jagan Mohan Reddy to the Congress party is the bizarre and an outlandish idea. None of them left the party for any ideological reasons even if they tend to sound the same.

Mamata left the party for the fact that she was not given total freedom to fight against the Left in Bengal. Sharad Pawar left the party raising Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin issue but most analysts are convinced that he always aspired for the PM’s post and that pushed him to leave the party. It’s no secret that he wanted to contest against P.V. Narashima Rao in 1991 but was persuaded by Karunakaran to not to contest for the PM’s post. Jagan left the party more recently due to the fact that he was denied the CM post which he thought rightfully belonged to him after his father’s death in 2009.

Hence none of them have any ideological contradictions with their parent party. But will this magic happen? That is the billion-dollar question now.

The best way for Congress to revive is to offer the Party President post to Mamata, General Secretary to Jagan and a Mentor role to Sharad Pawar. What this brings to the party immediately is the total number of seats in Lok Sabha for Congress party hits 100 (52+22+22+4). But more importantly there is no match for Jagan and Mamata in their home grounds. They are holding their turf as chieftains and Sharad Pawar has proven time and again that he can deliver better numbers than Congress leaders can in Maharashtra. Even in 2019 elections while Congress won 1 seat in Maharastra it was NCP which won 4 seats. That shows that Pawar has better grassroot support than what the Congress thinks it has.

The Flaw in my Plan

But can this happen? I would say it is highly improbable and with that goes the chances of a grand revival of the Congress Party. I am not sure if the Parivar is even interested to look into this option. Their egos are inflated to initiate a discussion of this nature. I am not even sure if the trio would look at this as a viable option. Pawar may gave a thought to this idea but his clan may not be inclined to since they control the sugar mills and an alliance with Congress would more sense to them than a merger.

As far as Mamata & Jagan goes they would just throw this idea into the dustbin for Congress party has hardly any base in either of their states.

So, the onus of responsibility squarely lies on the Congress to float, pursue and take this idea to its logical conclusion if they are serious about the fortunes of their party from the present-day coma where they are. 

If the 3 parties don’t come to save their parent party at this moment of crisis it would only portray them as parties chasing for power. Alliances are formed to capture power but Mergers of political parties happen when they are able to see the reality not only in front of them but what they could see for future. Each one would need to make a huge compromise but politics is all about compromises for both short- and long-term gains.

Borrowing from a wise old man words “Politics is the art of the possible”, which means, “It’s not about what’s right or what’s best. It’s about what you can actually get done”. It’s a political philosophy of setting pragmatism over your ideological goals. Getting everything you want is impossible, and often, you have to severely compromise in order to get anything you want at all. But in the end, refusing to compromise means you get nothing whatsoever.

P.S.: This blog is neither an attempt to revive the Congress party nor to write its obituary. It is just an attempt to put an idea which may never take off. Of course all predictors are optimistic in nature. So let us see!

Sreeram JVC