With the influence of Sonia Gandhi decreasing in the Congress and Rahul Gandhi emerging as the most powerful leader of the cadre, the Congress has been on a continuous decline.
Intoxicated with success in the 2009 Lok Sabha general elections, the Congress party thought now it can easily retain the pre 1990s status. Just few days ago, the buzz of Rahul’s young factor was presented as if he alone can attract all the young Indians to Congress. But the abysmal performance of the party in Bihar and U.P. showed where it stands.
Before the ghost of the corruption caught Congress, not making any exception to its Mr. Clean (Mr. Manmohan Singh) image, the gaddi of 2014 seems like a low-hanging fruit, there for the plucking. In a statement, the party spokesman Manish Tiwari was quoted as having said, "From now on there will be only Congress as a unifying force in national politics and a cluster of strong regional parties in the states.” He was over-confident that the elections collapse of the main opposition BJP would be a continuing process giving way to one-party system that emerged in the early 1990s.
But, the prevailing situation seems to be making a mockery of the party stating that it was too early a dream to come true. It faced humiliation in the Bihar assembly elections. On the other hand, BJP riding the crest of its ally Nitish Kumar’s developmental work come up with a performance which the party itself had not expected. Many may attribute it to division of secular votes but it is not the only reason. Secular votes are split always and everywhere but do not damage the parties claiming secularism to this extent.
Just analyse how the people of Bihar rejected Congress. They voted for only four candidates of the congress to victory, down five from the 2005 tally. While the BJP gained 36 plus seats in the 243-member assembly.
Congress did tremendously well in Uttar Pradesh bagging 22 Lok Sabha seats in 2009. All the party leaders relentlessly attributed it to the young leader Rahul Gandhi. But when the party bit dirt in Bihar they were quick to try shifting the focus from Rahul.
The truth is that Rahul Gandhi led the party campaign in Bihar and played a key role in selecting candidates. He attended 16 meetings regarding campaign arrangements. Sonia Gandhi addressed only six and the PM just one. But what benefit did the Rahul factor do to the party? He failed completely. The Bihar Youth Congress President Lallan Kumar, who was chosen by Rahul, was arrested carrying money allegedly meant to lure people to a party rally. The party candidates lost their deposits even in seats represented in the Lok Sabha, for instance, by Congress stalwarts like Speaker Meira Kumar.
In the recently held Panchayat polls of Uttar Pradesh, too, the Congress lost miserably to Bahujan Samaj Party. The ruling party led by Mayawati won 55 of the 72 zilla panchayat chairmen seats. The party’s performance even in the Amethi-Rae Bareli bastions was far worse. And it had no option but to allege the state government of blatant use of money and muscle power to hijack the elections. Although panchayat polls are not fought on party symbols but relatives of ministers, MLAs and MPs have their role.
Political analysts say that Congress is too much reliant on Rahul factor. Tracing back his legacy to the first family that uninterruptedly have been ruling independent India, except for a short interregnum, Rahul is considered the most deserving candidate for next P.M portfolio. Tragically, many who could pose a challenge to the Gandhis’ inherited right of governance were sidelined.
The current turmoil in the Andhra Pradesh state masterminded by Yeduguri Sanditi Jaganmohan Reddy is believed to be the outcome of the Congress mishandling the state politics. The party tried to marginalize Jaganmohan as it allegedly did with his late father and former CM of the state Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy. Rajasekhara Reddy was a mass leader who helped Congress making a strong bastion in Andhra. His death in a helicopter incident, Jaganmohan alleges, was under a ‘conspiracy’.
Jaganmohan appears to have grown a feeling that he is not given his due by the top leadership of Congress and that he was misbehaved by the party. He was not made CM after his father’s death nor after K. Rosaiah recently resigned his post of chief ministership.
Over the reshuffle of the new cabinet in Andhra the opponents of the CM Mr. Kiran Kumar have harried him. Jaganmohan Reddy supporter and MLC Jupudi Prabhakar Rao stated that the list of cabinet ministers was drawn up in haste, ignoring factors like caste, regional balance, district equality and political seniority. He says that there are only six SCs in the ministry while the vote bank amounts to 18 per cent. “A constitutional crisis is being precipitated in the state. It’s anybody’s guess as to whether Kiran Kumar’s cabinet is a cricket team or a private limited company,” he said.
The rejection of Lalu’s favour is yet another addition to this list. Once an inseparable ingredient of UPA, Lalu was marginalized by the Congress in such a way that the party fielded candidates against him in the Bihar assembly polls. Congress had assumed that in a state it lost long ago can go alone without local parties’ support.
Comments an analyst on this scenario, “Indeed, the over-dependence on Sonia and Rahul making all the decisions is one of the great structural defects in the DNA of the party. That in turn contributes to the failure to develop strong state leaders. When there has been strong leadership in the states, such as Sheila Dixit in Delhi or YSR in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress has thrived. Lately, the party has struggled to find good leaders both for states and even for the organisational revamp.”
It is also said that 2009 triumph bred a certain arrogance into Congress that is visible in the way the party broke ties with Lalu Yadav — without so much as a thank-you note for his unstinting support of Sonia on the foreign-origin issue (which saw a split within the Congress itself) or for the excellent rollout of the nascent NREGA under RJD minister Raghuvansh Prasad. Its ‘akela chalo re’ (Go alone) policy has come back to bite it.
Rahul Gandhi while representing Congress talks about young leadership in the politics. He urges students to join politics. But the practical reality talks of hypocrisy. If seen, Rahul is the only young Congressman who's saying anything.
“Blame it on the Congress culture of over-dependence on the first family, but other young faces in the government—Jitin Prasada, Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia—are barely seen, except sometimes in television studios,” writes one.
Rahul seems to have made it his favourite hobby to criticize the inadequacies of the leaders not associated with the Congress. This did not work in Bihar. Despite the anti-Nitish campaign of the Congress, the JD(U) and BJP alliance came back to power with a landslide victory. Even anti-incumbency factor did not hinder their way. Many question why Rahul not takes any ministry to prove practically that he is really concerned about omitting the barriers of poor and rich among Indians.
The flood of the corruption scandals that surrounded Congress should have been exploited by young Rahul. He could have attacked the corrupt officials like Yamraj. The Opposition would have then been silent. He would give the country a dialectical power and become antithesis to corruption. The country would have witnessed a new leadership. But it did not happen. He remained silent. Had the coalition of UPA been split due a high moral stand by the congress on corruption, the public would have voted it back with clear majority. But, Rahul dominated Congress has lost this opportunity. Now, it will be in a worse situation. It may face the same consequence as that of the previous three Congress governments.
The image of Rahul Gandhi is not as much a secularist as that of Sonia Gandhi. In one of his statements he said that instead of dwelling upon medieval type dispute of Babri Masjid title suit Indians, also Muslims, should be more concerned about advancement. When conveying this message he might not have thought that some orthodox Muslims would take it in wrong terms that Rahul is not concerned at all about the interests of the second largest majority of the country. To the Muslim community, Babri Masjid is a case of their identity. They think that giving into the demands of the fanatic forces by renouncing ownership will be tantamount to accept the existence of Ram Rashtra; a system in which the non-Hindus will have to live under the mercy of the Hindu majority. For a Congress already facing rage of Muslims for its active involvement in demolition of Babri Masjid, the message sent by Rahul is troubling.
It is tough time of the Congress party. Some reports say that the 2G scam was exposed by Congress itself to defame the former Telecom minister in the center A. Raja who is from DMK. It was done viewing the coming assembly elections in Tamil Nadu where DMK of Mr. Karunanidhi enjoys almost monopoly in rule. But this scam has turned out to be Frankenstein for Congress. Some say, it has brought the party back in the situation it underwent when Bofors controversy appeared on the political horizon like an ominous cloud. It has provided the opposition with an issue of such a magnitude which could shake the very ground of UPA in the centre.
Though efforts have been made to make the opposition, which too is now accused of being involved in the scam, silent, but the damage has already been done to the Congress.
The winter session of the Parliament was devoured by the opposition demanding a JPC to probe the scam and UPA declining its possibility. Now, the opposition has made up mind to continue its attack even after the sessions. Besides 2G scam, the opposition also has CWG and Adarsh Society ghotalas in its pipeline to intensify war against UPA.
How effectively the party manages to convince the public that it will no more plunder the public property will determine its fate in the assembly elections of West Bengal, Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry which will ultimately point out whether or not UPA-111 can be expected in 2014.
By A Hameed Yousuf