Writing in The Indian Express last Sunday, Meghanand Desai made an interesting observation about the BJP and the Congress. He wrote: “The latest election has confirmed the decline of the Congress. Once again, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi confronted each other. There is no doubt that Rahul is trying harder and getting better. But ultimately it is Modi who has made the BJP the party of the future.” So, what is making BJP the party of the future?
When Narendra Modi stormed to power in 2014, no one would have imagined that Congress would tragically march to a situation when it would be forced to play second fiddle to regional parties for survival. In its heydays, the grand old party would trample any rising regional force, its legal machinery would subject elected governments to President’s rule and control all public institutions with impunity. Not anymore.
All the Congress is seen doing these days is rejoicing at the defeat of BJP in any poll or plot with regional forces plans to keep BJP out of power. Dramatic development in Karnataka is the recent example where the Congress decided to walk behind rival JD(S) despite having won more seats.
In contrast, BJP is now ruling alone or with allies – Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhatisgarh, Biha, Rajasthan, Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
So, what went wrong?
One often claimed reason is the rise of BJP under the charismatic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. From Kashmir to Arunachal to Karnataka and Gujarat, the saffron party has spread its footprints in most of the states of the country, while the Congress has effectively shrunk to three – Punjab, Puducherry, and Mizoram. In Karnataka, the Congress can’t yet claim success as it had to compromise with JD(S) for keeping BJP at bay. Moreover, most of its ministers were voted out of power.
While Modi’s popularity continues to remain high, what is aiding the decline of the Congress is its apparent loss of direction and inability to find creative ways to tackle the BJP. In recent months, Congress party president Rahul Gandhi has tried to take on the BJP in the same way as Modi before 2014 General Elections. But Gandhi’s barbs have failed to dent Modi’s popularity or stop BJP’s spreading footprints. Copying is never a good idea, and certainly not in politics. What Modi did before 2014 through social media blitz against the Congress was new. A lot has changed since then. Modi has emerged as a popular leader, while Gandhi is still battling perceptions.
The BJP is powered by crores of disciplined and ideologically motivated cadre across the country, even in areas where the saffron party is not in power. The same is not the case with the Congress. It can be said the rise of BJP is a result of around 70 years of groundwork of its leaders and ideological mentors. The decline of the Congress is also the result of its deeds in the past decades.
Though Congress president Rahul Gandhi tries to position his party as the saviour of democracy, his statements smack of a monarch’s arrogance. How can a party save democracy if it is not democratic from within? Congress and other critics often accuse the BJP of being unsuitable in a democratic setup. For the record, however, BJP remains one of the most democratic party in the country as it is not owned by an individual or a family – as is the case with most regional parties as well as the Congress.
Congress decline – a disaster
For a healthy democracy, the decline of the main opposition party at the national level is nothing less than a disaster. Considering the current political trend in the country, regional parties will likely pose a united challenge to the BJP and Modi in 2019, with the Congress opting out of the contest to help stop the division of votes in states where it has lost popularity. If these parties succeed, India would once again find itself subjected to the whims and fancies of regional satraps. Coalition governments haven’t done any good for the country in past. Can India bet its future on regional parties in 2019?