Congress must mend ways to stay in the fray - Hindustan Times
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Congress must mend ways to stay in the fray

Mar 04, 2024 07:42 AM IST

If the Congress corrects its current flaws, it may have better days in the future. However, now it is too late for the Lok Sabha elections.

A twin blow to the already enfeebled Congress party has come from Himachal Pradesh. First, the party’s Rajya Sabha candidate, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, suffered a shocking defeat; and second, Vikramaditya Singh, son of former chief minister Virbhadra Singh who had long been the face of the Congress in the state, resigned. In the Rajya Sabha election, six MLAs had crossed the floor in support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate. For now, the party has persuaded Singh to withdraw his resignation, but the six cross-voting MLAs have been disqualified. Even if the Congress weathers this storm, it will find no respite from the political forces bent on proving that the party is now a relic of its past. They forget that politics is like a game of snakes and ladders, not a fairy tale.

Congress candidate from Himachal Pradesh, Abhishek Manu Singhvi addresses the press conference after losing the Rajya Sabha elections, in Shimla on Tuesday.(ANI) PREMIUM
Congress candidate from Himachal Pradesh, Abhishek Manu Singhvi addresses the press conference after losing the Rajya Sabha elections, in Shimla on Tuesday.(ANI)

Let me rewind 40 years, to 1984. In the elections held that year, the Congress won 414 seats, while the BJP won only two. Had anyone predicted then that Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who faced criticism from all around, would become the country’s prime minister within 12 years, while Rajiv Gandhi, who shone like a star, would lose his aura in just four? Morarji Desai and Chaudhary Charan Singh, who were pushed by Indira Gandhi to form a party of their own, also got a chance to serve as prime ministers. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, who felt offended during Indira’s early days, became president of the country. Also, VP Singh, whom Rajiv Gandhi had insulted and removed from the party, was elected prime minister right after the latter.

Now, let’s talk about the Congress. The party’s vote bank has been mostly dwindling since 1989, but it is still in power in three states. It is a stakeholder in the Jharkhand government and, until two months back, had a say in the ruling alliance of Bihar. It is the largest opposition party in 13 states. Though the party is antiquated, its organisation exists in every district of the country. The party has more than 650 MLAs around the country, and about 120 million voters supported it in the previous Lok Sabha elections. It was ranked second among the 196 Lok Sabha seats. Do you still believe the Congress is out of the game?

As far as Rahul Gandhi is concerned, he is still the most powerful and popular leader of the Congress. But if the Congress’s run of defeats continues, the party will either disintegrate or will have to find a new leader. The Nehru-Gandhi family will need to overcome their historical vulnerabilities to avoid this. They will have to find a fresh way of communication and new messengers. In Indira’s time, the Congress was a party of powerful satraps. It had powerful leaders in every state who could manage both power and organisation. Her descendants are becoming victims of the heroism Indira pioneered.

Rahul, like his father, was a hesitant entrant to politics. He was expected to make a serious attempt to fix this. He couldn’t. When the party won power in the Madhya Pradesh (MP) assembly polls, Jyotiraditya Scindia should have been appointed chief minister, but the elderly Kamal Nath got the position instead. He couldn’t finish his term. Rajasthan was in a similar state. Along with the MP, the Congress party won the elections in Rajasthan. Sachin Pilot was the president of the state Congress committee back then. He was marginalised and power was handed over to Ashok Gehlot, who was doing excellent work as Congress general secretary in New Delhi. The tragedy did not end here. The two elders were made faces in recent elections, and the party suffered a deadly blow shortly before the Lok Sabha elections. Rahul still has time to rid the party of “old loyalists” and appoint new commanders.

The BJP does this without reluctance. The saffron party’s guts compelled the former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis to accept the position of deputy chief minister to gain power. Nitish Kumar is the next in the series. The Congress attempted a similar experiment in Telangana and was successful in obtaining power. Why doesn’t Rahul bet on more leaders like Revanth Reddy?

As far as coalitions are concerned, the party will need to be flexible at times. The BJP had a tradition of not appointing outsiders as chief ministers. Nonetheless, rather than sticking to this tradition, the party backed Himanta Biswa Sarma and Eknath Shinde, when it was needed to do so. If the Congress corrects its current flaws, it may have better days in the future. However, now it is too late for the Lok Sabha elections.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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