In the aftermath of the first meeting last Sunday of the extended Congress Working Committee, which appeared to be more like a mini AICC conclave, aimed at accommodating significant as well as not so significant activists, the High Command has been unable to put across a clear and cogent message for the cadres. In fact, by having an unprecedented 239 participants attending the deliberations, the purpose of the exercise seemed both debatable and ambiguous. The signal that emanated from this august gathering was that the high command was still in the process of exploring options on various issues such as alliances, as also its leadership role and thus was apparently unprepared for the 2019 elections as it was in 2014 when the BJP, with relative ease, wrested power from the UPA.
The important declaration of Rahul Gandhi being projected as the Prime Ministerial nominee was diluted within two days, when following a possible rethink, the Congress climbed down to suggest that it was not going to insist on the leadership of an alliance, thus paving way for regional leaders to play a stellar role. The change in stance was consistent with the largely held view that Rahul’s acceptability amongst probable allies remained in doubt, and therefore, in order to ensure its non-exclusion from a federal alternative to the present government, the Congress had to take a pragmatic view and play second fiddle to keep the dialogue going.
There is confusion on account of alliances, and with barely eight months left for the Parliamentary polls, the leadership has sought views of the state units on the subject. Nothing of this sort happened in 2017 while forging an electoral understanding with the Samajwadi Party; here the Congress did not consult its state leadership but dropped a bombshell that even took its Chief Ministerial nominee Sheila Dikshit and its campaign spearhead Rahul Gandhi, on the wrong foot.
For obvious reasons no one protested since at that time the brainwave was attributed to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. It is another matter that the party got wiped out in more than 300 Assembly segments where Samajwadi nominees were contesting, thereby, providing an option to the grassroots’ workers to choose their political destiny. Arguably, the BJP’s unprecedented victory in the Assembly polls was perhaps, on account of the average six per cent Congress vote in each segment shifting towards the saffron brigade, rather than being cast for either the Samajwadi Party or the BSP, with whom, over 25 years, the party had been crossing swords.
Since the UP debacle, no attempt has been made to strengthen the party base in the largest populous state in the country, and Rahul in one of his speeches, has underlined the need for reinforcing the organisation up to booth, block and district levels. The bottom line is that it may be too late in the day and this story is not confined to UP alone, but to most of the states where the Congress was once a major power to reckon with. Clearly, the weakening of the organisational structure has not been sudden. Therefore to expect the edifice to once again overnight be robust was a mere fantasy devoid of practical experience.
An explanation provided by a senior Congress leader, on why the extended CWC was informed about Rahul being the PM face, is most unconvincing. In the present day Congress, Rahul is the undisputed leader, and if in the unlikely event of the party winning a respectable number of seats, he would continue to be the prima donna. However, if in 2019 the Congress’ performance was dismal, Rahul’s credentials would be openly questioned. As a matter of fact, this could happen much earlier, if the Congress was to lose in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in this winter’s Assembly polls.
On the flip side, if the Congress emerges victorious in these three states, Rahul’s gravitas and standing as a leader would improve considerably, augmenting his bargaining power with regional leaders who might just have a change of heart towards the grand old party. The success of the Congress would largely depend on the outcome of these states and a victory would boost the sagging morale of the cadres. Modi is definitely not a quintessential Indian politician like Atal Behari Vajpayee, but a leader who would throw everything he has in the battle so as to reap a favourable result. He is an extremely difficult adversary to take on, and to pin him down, the Congress has to do many overtime double-shifts.
Former Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram’s observation that the Congress would win at least 150 seats in states where it is directly pitted against the BJP betrays lack of understanding of the changed ground realities. In fact, the number of seats which would witness one-on-one contests between the Congress and the BJP are fewer, and to presume that the party would win a majority of them was being excessively optimistic.
The Congress leaders continue to delude themselves that the voters were waiting to hand power back to them without realising that the party’s mass base has shrunk. The Congress is ruling in barely two or three states, and even in these states, it faces a stiff challenge from its adversaries. Till Rahul comprehends the complex nature of his own party, it will be exceedingly arduous for him to fathom either the BJP, or his own possible allies. Between us.