The defeat of the Congress party in Haryana and Maharashtra in state elections does not come as a surprise. This was expected. Those who have followed political developments since the 2014 Lok Sabha election had inferred that the party was a story of the past. It had been battered by the charges of corruption so much and for so long that it had no public image left. The other parties, particularly the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), are finding favour with the people.
Take Haryana. It never returned more than 10 BJP candidates in earlier elections. This time, the party has constituted its government there single-handedly. This shows the strides it has made. Maharashtra has seen the Shiv Sena pulling down the Congress colossus, but the BJP had never been in reckoning there. The Shiv Sena and the BJP together have an absolute majority there today.
Whether this astonishing scenario is due to the spell which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast on the nation is not a matter of discussion any more. There is no doubting that the BJP has emerged as a national party and that Modi is a national leader. True, nationalism is the trump card that Modi plays. Parochialism is its main content. Secular forces are meekly surrendering.
Surprisingly, both Haryana and Maharashtra, progressive otherwise, have returned very few women to parliament. The parties are essentially to blame because they fielded very few female candidates. But the archaic thinking of voters is very much evident, too. Nearly seven decades after independence, women have not been able to get their due.
I do not think that the Congress can bounce back for at least another decade. And that, too, would require new vigour and new leadership. Since Congress President Sonia Gandhi does not see beyond dynastic politics, there is very little hope for the party to recover. She does not appreciate, even after years of projecting Rahul Gandhi that he does not sell. The disorder in the Congress is palpable. The growing frustration within the party ranks only confirms this. Some old Congress loyalists have found courage to raise their voices and have blamed Rahul and his team for the debacle. But such voices are stifled within the party, with Sonia and Rahul running the show. Now that both have failed, who do the people turn to? Both had reportedly once offered to resign. But the loyal Congress working committee had refused to accept their resignations. Both continue to constitute the party and its leadership. And both have seen to it that non-dynasty elements do not come up.
Logically, Rahul’s political career should have been over after the two back-to-back reversals, one in the Lok Sabha elections and the second in some of the state assembly polls. Yet, in dynastic politics, there is no room for such a debate. The Nehru-Gandhi family is still being considered central to the survival of the Congress. Rahul is important for the party, particularly when Sonia is suffering from indifferent health. Despite the resentment against Rahul’s style of functioning, the sycophants in the party are still hopeful that he would one day act like a leader.
That, in a way, sums up Sonia and Congress’s strategy. It is amusing to see the party leaders sheltering Rahul from criticism. The A K Antony report that followed the Lok Sabha polls points to organisational weaknesses rather than putting the blame squarely on Rahul for the defeat of the party. He had to be pulled out of the election campaign in Haryana and Maharashtra because he was having a negative effect.
One good thing that Sonia once admitted in a letter was that the revival of the party was a challenge. Her letter to Congress leaders offered encouraging words, infusing fresh confidence to overcome hostile conditions. “This path is long and requires relentless struggle. But I am confident you can overcome the hostile conditions with your determination and hard work. I am always there with you in this struggle. I shall be in regular contact with all of you,” she had said.
For demoralised Congress leaders, the letter served as a soothing morale-booster. They admitted that unlike Rahul’s attitude, Sonia’s letter was full of humility, with soothing words providing them with some much-needed comfort in these difficult times. Yet, they wonder why Rahul was still relying on his advisers who had failed him in assembly elections held in the last two years.
The plain truth is that people in the Congress have nowhere to go except to rely on dynastic politics, which has run the party since independence. Jawaharlal Nehru was compared with a banyan tree, which did not let anything beneath to grow. The Congress was dependent on him. Consequently, none in the party emerged to be its natural choice for leader when he died. Indira Gandhi, his daughter whom he had groomed, was not acceptable to the party in the beginning. Yet, slowly and surely, she made her way to the top.
The end of the Congress may not be good for the country because it provides an ideological platform with pronounced secular credentials. What is still disconcerting is that the vacuum created by the vacation of the Congress is being filled by elements that are inimical to the integrity of the country. Their efforts to polarise the country have already evoked a sense of discrimination in the country. The attack on the people from Manipur in Delhi is one recent example.
Unfortunately, the Modi phenomenon has the blessing of the RSS. This amounts to interfering in the affairs of governance. The appearance of the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, on the government-run Doordarshan was unfortunate and told the story of RSS ideology being an integral part of the government. At present, Modi is trying to focus on development, not on the RSS philosophy. But he will have to distance himself from that organisation for the sake of credibility. Indian Muslims are feeling insecure and they have to be given confidence. How Modi does it is his business. But he must do something about this.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2014.