Of Congress and Disgraced Royalty
It is rare to witness the kind of sustained popularity among the electorate enjoyed by the current regime in power. Although the factors are multiple, the stagnation of the Indian political scenario since 2014 would not have been possible without the incompetence of the opposition.
Congress has been in steady and steady decline for the past three decades. According to data from Ashoka University’s Trivedi Center for Political Data, Congress had won more than 50% of the seats it contested through 1984 (excluding the post-emergency election). In 2004, he won 35% of the seats he contested, while this figure improved relatively in 2009 (47%). In 2014, he won only 9% of the seats he contested while in 2019, this figure stood at 12%.
The cause of such low numbers cannot simply be due to the popularity of the BJP. This must be seen as a failure of the leadership of Congress. The Gandhis have always been an asset to Congress. They served as a unifying factor for the party organization while representing a rich, almost royal heritage for the people of India. It’s no longer the case now.
Since the embarrassing defeat of 2014, a clear voice of dissent seems to be emerging from many senior congressional leaders. Informally known as the G-18, these leaders credibly accused the party leadership of being inaccessible and called for organizational overhaul, accountability and elections. It’s hard not to sympathize. The highest executive committee of the Congress i.e. the Congress Working Committee is supposed to be elected by the electoral college of delegates of the Pradesh Congress Committee at the bloc level. However, Congress has not held an election for the past 20 years. Instead, Sonia Gandhi appoints CWC members herself from time to time as she sees fit.
That’s why the Gandhis’ recent offer to leave the reign of power in Congress appears insincere at best and theatrical at worst. It is inconceivable that a group of mostly ineligible leaders appointed by the Gandhis would want them gone.
Congress in its present form not only condones but rewards mediocrity and failure. For example, the rulers delegated Ajay Maken to oversee elections in Punjab while Jairam Ramesh was given similar responsibilities in Manipur. The party has miserably lost these two states. Yet the same leaders were reappointed to suggest changes and assess the reasons for the loss after the election. Gandhi’s acolytes such as Randeep Singh Surjewala, Maken and Avinash Pandey continue to play prominent roles in decision-making despite their terrible record.
This problem comes from the top. Far from stepping down as vice president after the 2014 debacle, Rahul Gandhi was named president in 2017. Even as an MP, RG was a total failure. In his first term as MP, his attendance in Lok Sabha was 33% lower than the national average. He introduced no private members’ bills and asked no questions. His attendance and performance declined further during his second and third terms. By any measurable standard, Rahul Gandhi has been a below-average MP and a liability to Congress as a leader.
Although there was some initial excitement after Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra was named UP election chief, it led to the party garnering even fewer seats than in the last election.
The BJP’s emphasis on the prime minister’s humble origins as a “tea seller” contrasts sharply with the perception of Gandhis as elitist rulers. Over time, people’s perception of rulers, especially incompetent ones, changed from admiration to hostility.
Despite the AAP’s recent success in Punjab, the Congress is still India’s second largest national party. The idea of the emergence of an alternative opposition party is still too far in the future. The Congress party is the only party that has the apparatus and the experience to take on the BJP. Yet the Gandhis represent the elitism, corruption and privileges of “New India”. Opposition WITHOUT a credible alternative, vision and better narrative is pretty much useless. The Gandhis ensured the stagnation of the Indian political scenario by refusing to give way to a strong alternative leader to take the reins of Congress. In doing so, they have ironically become Congress’s greatest liability and the BJP’s greatest asset.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The opinions expressed are those of the author and have nothing to do with the charter or opinions of OTV. OTV does not assume any responsibility in this regard.)