As much as the resounding defeat in the Delhi elections of February 2020, it is the aftermath of that disastrous showing that has begun to spell real trouble for the Grand Old Party of Indian politics.
The Congress’ First Family—around whom its fluctuating fortunes have largely revolved since Sonia Gandhi assumed the party presidency in 1998, in the wake of the unceremonious exit of Sitaram Kesri—is surrendering both influence and control, if recent developments are anything to go by. The matriarch, who is technically in charge, seems but a shadow of her earlier self, even as the chosen successor, the heir apparent, has been able to do (or show) precious little to substantiate a claim for future leadership.
Which leaves only Priyanka whose friendly demeanour and communication skills were unable to deliver in Amethi last year, and have again been unsuccessful in the national capital.
There has yet to be a credible response from the First Family to the latest electoral debacle, one of the underlying causes of which is the unwholesome interference (accompanied by unsavoury reputations) of those functionaries who have continually failed the party, such as the treasurers, political secretaries, office-bearers, aides and retainers (few, if any, ever elected to the House of the People) who have contributed to the steady decline of Rahul Gandhi’s graph.
For starters, a war of words has erupted in the upper rungs of the Congress; the name of the late Sheila Dikshit has not been spared. The top leadership appears in no position to quell the upheaval, when it finally comes.
The time could soon be ripe for hitherto loyal lieutenants to break away and seek their own way forward, howsoever daunting.
The father of the Gwalior scion, Madhavrao Scindia (1945-2001), had floated a separate Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress after departing from the P.V. Narasimha Rao Cabinet. He had not lost an election since 1971, which his son has now done from the Guna constituency.
In Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot (born 1977) could be waiting in the wings for a shot at higher things if the Gandhis are compelled to withdraw.
Perhaps the best choice to succeed them at the helm is Captain Amarinder Singh of Patiala (born 1942), who can, by also continuing as Chief Minister, make the challenge tougher for the BJP and its allies in the run-up to 2024. He could re-establish rapport with politicians of substance and standing like Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and Arvind Kejriwal and attempt to forge an alliance to take on the NDA-II. This would have the potential to materialise if the Congress sees itself (and their first family) as primarily a cementing force and is willing to be junior partner with the regional parties, as and where required.
All things considered, the Congress is fighting to survive as the main opposition party against a dispensation at the Centre that is headed by a strikingly popular leader who secured a decisive mandate. The BJP has a big cadre of workers; the PM has over four years remaining of the current term—a very long time in politics.
A shaft of light might still appear for the Congress should high inflation, joblessness and agrarian distress continue to defy solution.
In other words, to make the slogan “Modi hai to mumkin hai (Modi makes it possible)” reverberate for the 2024 polls, much will need to be done on the ground to scale up the government’s credibility and performance in the coming months.
Arun Bhatnagar was formerly in the IAS