In the last decade, the Congress party has been reduced to an insignificant force in many states including West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
Congress ally in Maharashtra and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar recently gave a statement that caused jitters among several Congress leaders. Pawar had likened the Congress to a landlord who has lost his land and is unable to even carry out maintenance of his mansion. He said that their lands have shrunk to a few acres from a thousand acres before but even then today when they wake up in the morning, they consider all those green fields as their property. “It was his once but doesn’t belong to him now,” said Pawar.
Four states and one Union Territory went to polls this year – West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry. The party failed to open its account in Bengal, it failed to retain power in Puducherry and it failed to overthrow BJP in Assam despite allying with AIUDF to woo the minorities. In Kerala, which had seen alternative governments over past decades and the party was hopeful of defeating the CPI-led LDF, the party could not even better its previous tally. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK gave just 25 seats to the Congress making it a junior partner. The party won 18 seats riding on the back of DMK’s popularity just as the BJP won four seats just because of the AIADMK.
The party is constantly facing rebellion across states be it at the central level, or in states like Uttarakhand, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka or Madhya Pradesh. In fact, the party lost power in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh just because it failed to keep its flock together. With opposition parties expressing their willingness to form a united front to take on the BJP in 2024, the Congress is staring at a vacuum or another poll defeat with G-23 leaders repeatedly urging the high command to take steps to revive the party.
But the bigger question is over its possibility.
“I don’t see a possibility of the Congress party’s revival. If you see, in every state where the Congress has slipped to third spot or below, it has not bounced back to reclaim the top or second spot. One after the other, they are conceding the ground to regional parties. So slowly, the party is losing ground at every place. The space which Congress used to enjoy earlier has now been taken by the BJP,” opined Sangit Kumar Ragi, Professor and Head, Department of Political Science at Delhi University.
There are around eight states where the Congress has not even opened its account. It includes some big states where Congress has been reduced to an insignificant force – in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. There was a time when Congress happened to be the ruling party in Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but once it conceded ground to regional parties, there was no end to the downward spiral.
Ragi believes that the problem is with the top-down approach whereas it should be the other way around in any democracy. “Since very few or no grassroots leaders of Congress remain on the ground and all the leadership is being imposed by the high command from above, the evolution of politics from grassroots is not happening in Congress. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the party,” he said. Ragi says that the situation of the Congress party at present is like ‘idhar kuan, udhar khai‘.
“It’s between the devil and the deep sea. If the Gandhi family is removed from the top, the Congress will crumble down in no time and if they remain at the top, then no one can revive the Congress,” he said.
The regional parties like RJD and NCP have often said that with Congress having a national presence, it should be the fulcrum of any front against the BJP. So, is there no way up for the Congress party? Ragi said that the first change the grand old party needs to make is to play constructive politics.
“Congress needs to take up a five-year revival plan for revamping the party. There should be elections and the party should forget about coming into power for now. A tag of minority appeasement has also been linked with Congress, so somewhere they have to take a very balanced stand. If the BJP or RSS is wrong, then it’s wrong and if they are doing anything good, then the Congress party should not hesitate in praising them just because the Muslim voters will get upset. They will have to play sensible and constructive politics,” he said.
The DU professor said that Congress should evolve democratically if it wants to stay relevant.
“Since the party has been tested for a long time, it would be better for them to emerge as a democratic party. Then even the opposition party’s talented leaders will align with it. At present, they think that there is no place for them at the top if they don’t stand by Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. The leaders, at present, are loyal to the Gandhi family rather than to the ideology of the Congress party. This has to go,” said Ragi.
With repeated resolutions demanding Rahul Gandhi to be made party president again and some media reports claiming that the Congress leaders want to see Rahul Gandhi as the face of the united opposition, the grand old party has very little time for revival to take on the well-oiled poll machinery of the BJP which is backed by the grassroots level support from the RSS.