Editorial: Congress Faces Existential Crisis

Editorial: Congress Faces Existential Crisis

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Tuesday, February 20, 2024, 01:37 PM IST
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Congress leader Sonia Gandhi | File/ANI

That the Congress is a sinking ship has been apparent for some time now, especially with the exodus of top-level leaders with unfailing regularity. This characterisation of the Grand Old Party has only been reinforced by the recent buzz about the imminent departure of Madhya Pradesh veteran Kamal Nath and his son to join the saffron fold. Nath, whose over five-decade career in the party began in the Youth Congress, was close to Indira Gandhi, Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi. He has always been seen as a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist to the core.  His discontent only highlights the rot that is affecting the party. Blaming high-profile exits on pressure from the Central government via the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, et al, has become routine in the Congress high command as is the charge of opportunism, but the fact remains that the party has begun resembling a crumbling edifice and it will require a superhuman effort to revive it. When leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora and Ashok Chavan, scions of illustrious Congress families, feel the necessity to shift ideological base to the right in order to further their political careers, they can be accused of being power hungry but it is obvious that they also felt stifled in the Congress ecosystem as their views were not taken into consideration. Captain Amarinder Singh, Sunil Jakhar and Ghulam Nabi Azad are other prime examples. For years now the charge has been that there is no real inner-party democracy in the Congress as all decisions are taken by the ‘first family’ or the ‘coterie’ surrounding them. Many defectors have accused the Congress high command of ignoring the voices of state leaders. Tales of leader after leader having to wait endlessly for an audience with Sonia or Rahul Gandhi have now become legendary.

The party’s dismal performance in two general elections and losses in several state elections did not lead to any real self-introspection. Instead, in a fit of pique, Rahul Gandhi resigned as party president in 2019 but did not actively facilitate handing over the reins to a worthy successor. As a result, an ailing Sonia Gandhi was forced to again take charge till organisational elections were held last year and Mallikarjun Kharge, a nominee of the  family, was elected as Congress president. It is baffling that Rahul Gandhi, who is merely an MP from Kerala’s Wayanad following his ignominious loss to Smriti Irani in his family bastion of Amethi, calls all the shots in the party. This is truly power without responsibility or accountability. Following the 2014 and 2019 debacles there was no seat-wise analysis of the defeats. The party which had been expecting a decent performance was shocked by the 2019 verdict and went into shutdown mode for nearly two years. A belated realisation that something had to be done if it was to avoid a similar rout in 2024 led to the formation of the I.N.D.I.A alliance and some semblance of self-realisation in the party. However, the alliance itself is now coming unstuck because of unrealistic expectations about seat-sharing projections and the Congress’ unwillingness to engage with its allies. Also the deep sense of distrust among the I.N.D.I.A bloc parties of the Congress and its intentions have left the party gasping for breath. In states such as Maharashtra and Jharkhand, it is facing dual threats from disenchanted party members and poaching attempts by the BJP. Even in states where it is in power, Karnataka, Telangana and Himachal, there is the fear of defections.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra in 2022-23 led by Rahul Gandhi was trumpeted as a resounding success but the Congress was routed in Assembly elections in Rajasthan , Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh held in the end of 2023. With the Gandhi scion leading another Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, just weeks before general elections are to be announced, the general mood in the party is one of despondency. Over the past few years many leaders have quit citing inaction and an utter refusal to accept shortcomings and attempt to rectify them. The party which won India freedom 75 years ago is now in the throes of an existential crisis. It can either collapse under the weight of its failures or attempt to reinvent itself. For the latter it will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a blueprint for action that involves wholesale changes and a complete ideological and political revamp. The future indeed looks bleak for the Grand Old Party.

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