The BJP is jubilant after its spectacular success in Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly polls this week. Coming as it does on the heels of the recent impressive Lok Sabha victory, the BJP can claim that the momentum as well as the Modi magic is intact.

The Congress, on the other hand, is demoralised further after its humiliating defeat in both the states.  There is already discussion and debate about the future of the 128-year-old party.

Well-wishers feel that Congress has to overcome the leadership crisis and come back with resurgence.

 After independence, the Congress had tremendous good will.  Moreover, it was seen as an umbrella party, which had all shades of opinions which were allowed to flourish. Above all, the party was able to share power with the workers. But today, the power is in the hands of a few. A small coterie around 10 Janpath rules the party to the dismay of old timers.

Since Independence, barring a few years, the Congress has been ruling at the Centre and most of the states.  It can no longer take this position for granted. Its appeal to the Dalits and Muslims has been eroded by the rise of other political parties in north and south India. Its standing as a national party has been challenged by the BJP.

The NDA is ruling in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Goa and Andhra Pradesh. But the Congress has its presence in every village even today. It has a pan national view and is known for its secularism and focus on the unity and integrity of the country.  But the party is not able to take advantage of these factors.

One thing is clear: The party has lost connection with the common man and also its commitment to people. It seems to be living in a make-believe world where reality has no value.

Second, most people join the party with selfish motives. Its organisation and leadership are weak. On both fronts, it is outsmarted by BJP-RSS and Modi respectively.

Third, the regional and caste-based parties have grown as Congress is unable to meet the aspirations of the people. Fourth, the BJP has emerged as an alternative and dominant party in the past six months.

 The challenge for the party is how to come closer to people, how to remain relevant to a generation that is full of aspirations and to recast itself as a tool for social change rather than political power. For this, the Congress leadership including its Vice President Rahul Gandhi has to prove their commitment. Asking Priyanka Gandhi to lead the party is no answer.

The BJP has established dominance in its areas of strength, and a growing presence in areas where it has not existed so far. The Congress is without a strong base anywhere, having been wiped out in its earlier stronghold of Andhra Pradesh, routed in Maharashtra, sidelined in West Bengal and marginalised in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Delhi.

The party faces a structural dilemma on several fronts — organisational weakness, ideological stagnation and shrinking social support.  At one time, it was a democratic party with a formidable organization that ran an effective political machine, distributing patronage in exchange for electoral support.

From the 1970s onwards, party in most States degenerated in a big way. From then on, no attention was given to the reorganization and regeneration of the Congress. Between 2004 and 2014, the Congress not only won two national elections and ruled for two full terms but also won 21 Assembly elections. But there is no evidence that the party was able to use its stint in power to energise the organization.

The grand old party needs fresh ideas, a new idiom, and a new icon. But the party lacks vision and is unable to encourage young leaders to rise from within. It is dynastic. The time has come for the Congress to debate whether the dynasty has outlived its usefulness.

Second-rung leaders are not encouraged by the high command with the result that those who break away from the Congress can launch own outfits.

The biggest challenge for the Congress is to save itself from extinction. There is nothing guaranteed about the party’s revival, but judging by history, even its opponents would be foolish to write it off.

They had prophesised its fall in 1967, 1977, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999 elections. Each time, the party bounced back. To survive from its latest crushing defeat, Congress needs to do intense soul-searching.

Indian democracy needs two strong national parties. That means both Congress and BJP have to survive electoral ups and downs.

Kalyani Shankar

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