The Congress could not have had a more propitious time to bounce back into reckoning as now when the BJP is fast losing its sheen, having suffered a spate of reverses in State elections. With the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) weighing it down, the BJP is unrelenting in defending it.
If today despite growing disillusionment with the BJP the Narendra Modi magic is still holding out, it is in no small measure due to the absence of an alternative. Rahul Gandhi has shown that he is a pygmy before Modi and the Congress, tied as it is to the coat-tails of the Nehru-Gandhi clan, would continue to stick with it. It is a strange spectacle of a party in decay continuing to be in the hands of those responsible for the decay.
After a brief period when the ‘Young Turks’ in the Congress seemed to be on the ascendant, the process has been reversed with the older unscrupulous lot back to controlling the party’s levers of power with the return of Sonia Gandhi as leader. Young stalwarts Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Jitin Prasad are groping for a meaningful role in the revival of the Congress but to no avail.
Scindia is up in arms against Kamal Nath but the wily Sanjay Gandhi time vintage leader uses various strategems to outwit the blue blooded Scindia working in tandem with old warhorse Digvijay Singh. Both Scindia and Milind lost the last Lok Sabha polls and it would be worthwhile for the party to examine what part the senior leaders played in their marginalisation.
Young Milind Deora had to be privately ticked off by the Congress bigwigs recently when he praised the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government for being one of the most fiscally-prudent administrations, borne out by the fact that it subsidised power winning people’s hearts, and yet managed to run up a revenue surplus during its entire first term. Milind praised AAP after it mauled the BJP and decimated the Congress in the recent State polls.
Rahul Gandhi is held in contempt by even the Young Turks but while they see that he is incapable of even attempting a revival of the Grand Old Party, they do not speak up, knowing how futile it is to expect Sonia to act if they tread on his corns.
In this long-festering famine of leaders, Arvind Kejriwal’s stock as a leader of note has gone up with the Delhi polls victory but no one dares to say that it was Rahul’s antipathy towards Kejriwal that scuttled a Congress alliance with AAP. There is never any introspection in the Congress when the failings are on the part of the family dynasty.
The whole edifice of Kejriwal’s success a second time in sweeping the polls was the subsidies he showered on the Delhi resident. It is debatable if a mere exercise in redistribution can sustain the party in election after election with nothing towards capital formation and employment. There is no denying, however, that the AAP government’s fiscal management has been good.
However, there is a veritable bubble that could well burst the next time around. Nevertheless, while the going is good, AAP is seeking to expand its base beyond Delhi and is gradually unravelling its ambitions on a national scale. But it is highly unlikely that it could challenge Modi and the BJP effectively at the national level.
It is a tribute to Modi’s latent skills as a leader that 2024 re-election looks eminently possible for him given the absence of challengers in the opposition as much as in his own party. The demise of Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj last year has removed stalwarts within the party who could potentially be thought of as possible heirs. Amit Shah and Nitin Gadkari are other bigwigs, but it is too far-fetched to think of them as such.
Mamata Banerjee’s invincibility as a regional satrap who could aspire for the coveted chair came under question in the last Lok Sabha elections when her Trinamool Congress could manage only 22 seats, while the BJP which was an unknown entity in West Bengal until a few years ago climbed up close with 18 seats from the state.
Only the future would reveal whether the BJP has touched its peak or it would cause a huge upset by displacing Trinamool from power with it becoming the rallying point for all anti-incumbency forces. The Congress and the CPI-M have spent themselves out and can hardly be looked upon as serious contenders for power under current conditions.
In Bihar, the BJP is playing a waiting game, gaining in confidence that it would become the senior partner in the coalition with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) in due course.
In the Northeast, with Babulal Marandi having decided to merge his party with the BJP, the stage is set for the ultimate return of a BJP government if all goes according to plan in Jharkhand.
The South is still far removed from being a BJP bastion despite Karnataka having fallen into its lap in recent months.
All in all, despite a degree of disillusionment with the BJP, the party can be in the driver’s seat at the Centre in this term and the next barring the emergence of a charismatic leader in the opposition which appears a remote possibility.
A coalition of parties opposed to the BJP could still be a theoretical possibility in 2024 if the party forfeits its advantage and rubs the electorate on the wrong side, but with Narendra Modi at the helm some course corrections can hardly be wished away.
The writer is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.