By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
India’s Grand Old party, the Indian National Congress or simply the “Congress”, is in deep trouble. It lost power in some crucial States like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, which it had captured in the last elections. Its position is currently shaky in Rajasthan. In some States, it could not form a government even after winning elections. In other words, the Congress showed promise only to belie it within days or months.
In the last State Assembly elections in Karnayaka, the Congress had defeated Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, all big and crucial States, dealing a massive blow to the entrenched BJP and to the image of Modi as an invincible leader.
But not long afterwards, the Congress had to quit power in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh due to internal divisions. It is now fighting for its life in Rajasthan again due to in-fighting.
The blame is easily put on factionalism (which is endemic in the Congress) and the wrong policies of the Central leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. But the real determining factor has been the overwhelming presence of Narendra Modi, the icon of the BJP and the powerful Prime Minister of India.
Modi’s power, policies and the nationalist image that he has projected have created disaffection, dissent and revolt in the Congress which is lacking a similar leader to hold the party together when there is powerful opponent in the political arena outside. Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her deputy Rahul Gandhi have failed to provide a credible and workable alternative to Modi. Their external posturing and internal mismanagement have lessened the appeal of the Congress within its own ranks and among the masses outside. Party activists and second rank leaders ask: “Is there a future for us in the Congress? Would BJP be a better place?”
The amazing fact is that Modi’s image is as unblemished as it was when he stormed the national bastion in New Delhi in May 2014. This is so, despite the fact that he has utterly and manifestly failed to revive the flagging Indian economy, control the COVID pandemic and face up to China’s bullying on the border.
Troubles for the Congress began in Karnataka after it captured power from the BJP in alliance with Janata Dal (Secular) in the 2018 State Assembly elections. But come 2019, it weakened, thanks to defections from the ruling coalition. Mismanagement of the coalition and the grant of primacy to the smaller Janata Dal (Secular) had caused internal dissatisfaction in the Congress. Lacking enough strength in the legislature, party had to hand over the reins of power to the BJP, which under Modi, had retained its unity.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress ousted the entrenched BJP as the people wanted a change after a long tenure of the BJP. But after the elections, there was division on who should be Chief Minister. The Congress High Command favored and installed, the old warhorse Kamalnath as Chief Minister, ignoring the claims of the younger Jyotiraditya Scindia. It did not take long for Scindia to revolt and join the BJP to become a BJP member in the Upper House of the India. With not enough members in the legislature after the departure of Scindia, the Congress handed over power to the BJP again.
In Rajasthan, the Congress had ousted the BJP from power but only to become weak and vulnerable after young leader Sachin Pilot revolted. He was nursing the grievance that he was denied the post of Chief Minister which was given to senior leader Ashok Gehlot. He was given the Deputy Chief Ministership but apparently without power.
Though Pilot walked out with some members of the legislature, it is apparent now that he does not have enough members of the legislature with him to oust Gehlot from power. Pilot has been expelled from Congress but is apparently unable to join the BJP because the local BJP leader Vijaya Raje Scindia is resisting his entry feeling threatened by him. However, whether Pilot joins the BJP or not, his quitting the Congress has weakened the party in Rajasthan.
In Chhattisgarh too, Congress Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is at loggerheads with senior leader, State health minister and one of the aspirants for the top post TS Singh Deo. The differences between Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh and his former ministerial colleague Navjot Singh Sidhu are out in the open. In Maharashtra, the problem is distinct, for there are deep ideological differences between Congress and its allies, particularly the Shiv Sena.
The failure on the part of the central leadership to address the dissension in the state units is adding to the Congress woes. Congress leaders have been waiting for an organizational changes since August last year when Sonia Gandhi agreed to assume the party Presidency on interim basis after Rahul Gandhi rejected repeated calls to take back his resignation. Rahul had resigned as the Congress President on May 25 2019, taking responsibility for the party’s crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha elections that year. But interim President Sonia Gandhi is ageing and in indifferent health.
The Congress leadership has not proved to be match for Modi though it has taken up an highlighted critical issues like economic decline, bad management of the COVID-19 crisis and the failure to prevent the Chinese from taking over Indian land in Ladakh and killing Indian soldiers. He has exposed the dangers of BJP’s Hindutwa (aggressive Hindu nationalism) but half-heartedly and fitfully as he is aware that Hindutwa has mass appeal, bad though it might be for a multi-religious society like India.
Apparently, the people are still giving the benefit of doubt to Modi as he appears to be the strongest and the most charismatic leader around. Rahul is clearly not filling the bill. He is not appealing enough to the masses despite his intellectual superiority over Modi. The Congress will have to wait for a strong and decisive leader with mass appeal like Indira Gandhi to pull itself out of the quagmire of ideological confusion, organizational confusion, and weak leadership.