The rumble at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee will do little more that lead to the ouster of the chief minister who spoke off the record to the media, indicating his party’s president was hopeless. All the three reasons leaders of the party have identified for the debacle of the Congress at the just-concluded Lok Sabha election are obvious. That a negative election campaign rarely pays is a general truth. Even an Arvind Kejriwal, who is given to hurling wild allegations at his political rivals, had some alternative to offer to the people of Delhi in 2015, much as many of his promises now ring hollow. The best example from the recent times is the 2009 general election where the BJP’s campaign projecting Manmohan Singh as the “weakest prime minister” was rejected by the electorate. As said about the communists in our previous editorial, the opposition often lost the difference between criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and advocating an anti-national cause. Anti-national was precisely how they sounded, never mind their allergic reaction to the epithet, when they questioned whether the surgical strike in 2016 and the recent airstrike happened at all and, if they did, how the Pakistani casualties could be established. But the root cause of the Congress’s rout in this election has haunted it for a long time: the sheer incompetence of the Nehru-Gandhi family in general and the latest dynast Rahul Gandhi, the party president, in particular.
The argument that the dynasty should not be blamed for a mere two election defeats — 2014 and 2019 — amounts to being oblivious of the fact that there have been all except three State election defeats in between. The Lok Sabha election of 2009 was won by the goodwill then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had generated by putting his own position in the party at stake with his insistence on the US-India civilian nuclear deal. In fact, Singh’s act of claiming credit for the Congress’s victory that year hurt the egos of the dynasty, making the then premier a marginalised player in the ruling party throughout UPA II. In 2004, the Congress had won a mere six seats more than the BJP — thanks to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s complacency where he had presumed the “feel good” factor among the urban middle class would see his party through. While Rajiv Gandhi rode a sympathy wave to power after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, even he did not have the calibre to retain the government, seen five years later when VP Singh, the BJP and communists snatched his seat of power. Once the Indian polity offered choices other than the Congress, the only election it won due to an act of its own was the poll that followed the liberation of Bangladesh. In 1980, the reason for Indira Gandhi’s return was the cacophonous, feuding Janata Party government rather than herself.
The other argument that the Congress, if not the country, needs the dynasty, as seen towards the fag end of PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri’s leadership is not sound either. If the party began disintegrating following Rao’s cynical initiation of probes against his colleagues in the government of the time, the splinters headed by ND Tiwari, Madhavrao Scindia, GK Moopanar, P Chidambaram, etc could not have sustained for long if the rest of the party did not despair following its defeat in 1996. But used to enjoying the fruits of power throughout, they could not bear with the distance from Raisina Hills’ razzmatazz, which provoked them to unseat Kesri in the most uncouth manner conceivable — about six odd years before they shamed a traditional India by leaving the body of Rao unattended outside the party headquarters. This sickening monarchical-era fascination with heredity had to be punished in this democracy sooner or later. But the nature of feudal submission to a ‘ruling’ family the Congress acquired since the Goongi Gudiya came of age in 1969 makes it doubtful the questionable pedigree will ever be questioned in the form of an open rebellion by not one but many leaders of the party all at once.
To make matters worse, even though the Congress has claimed since the era of Jawaharlal Nehru that it does not profess an ideology, not only a puny or two in the party but even the dynasty does not dare. It is too inhibited of the consequence of declaring that socialism and its distorted version of secularism — practised since the time Rajiv Gandhi sanctioned the shilanyas at the Ram Janmabhoomi while also overturning the Shah Bano verdict of the Supreme Court — would henceforth be discarded. Therefore, the voter is left with no choice when Modi turns a socialist too, and his government continues with, rather enhances, all the minority-oriented programmes of the UPA government. Since the Congress cannot turn adventurous in exercising ideological choices, it can at best hope the BJP government falters due to callous ministers and legislators, causing its downfall, as seen in Madhya Pradesh in 2018. Unfortunately for the Congress, Modi is no Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The prime minister is not known to let his colleagues turn lax. As of now, hence, the path ahead for the oldest party of the country seems to stay despondent until its endangered status aggravates to extinction.