The Congress has faced yet another election debacle. Though its loyal supporters have tried to sound positive by highlighting the victory in Punjab and the good show in states like Manipur and Goa where it has finished as the single-largest party, it has lost power in Uttarakhand and fallen flat in Uttar Pradesh. The Grand-Old Party is in power in just seven states and Union Territories combined as against the rival BJP/NDA's 15.
The worse part is that all the states/UTs that the Congress is ruling are small and peripheral, with Karnataka remaining as the only big state in its kitty. It is in power in a crucial state like Bihar only as an addition to local strongmen like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad. That apart, the Congress has been mostly wiped out from India's heartland.
Congress is losing not just alone nowadays, but also in alliance
While the Congress has been relegated to the third and fourth positions in many states, it has also failed miserably in alliance. Bihar was an exception, since it was always an extra in the game which was dominated by Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad. From West Bengal to Tamil Nadu to Uttar Pradesh, the Congress has not only failed to improve its position despite being in alliance but also saw its allies losing poorly. The Left (Bengal), DMK (Tamil Nadu) and Samajwadi Party (Uttar Pradesh) are examples from the recent past. Even the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir and Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra have not had a happy experience in tying up with the Congress. In both the states, the BJP has come to power after their last elections.
Things are also not looking very bright for the Congress in Karnataka which is due to go to the polls in 2018. The BJP has taken its lesson from the BS Yeddyurappa debacle of 2013 and has ensured that the Lingayat strongman is back in its fold to recapture power. Along with Karnataka, a host of BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will go to the polls next year. Going by the current trends, the year before the Lok Sabha election looks to be a bleak one for Rahul Gandhi & co.
Where does the Congress go from here?
So the question is: Where is the Congress headed, especially after the disaster they met in UP where they won mere seven out of 403 seats, the lowest they have ever had in the state which was once their stronghold?
The answer is simple: Nowhere. It's a big party, and that's why it is taking time to sink. But it is sinking nevertheless. While the Congress' fall was flagged off by regional satraps, the phenomenon called Narendra Modi looks set to put the final nail in the party's coffin. The Congress is in the ICU and there is very little chance of it recovering.
However, one would be wrong to say that it was Modi who ensured its downfall. Of course, the prime minister has made life difficult for the Congress like never before, but it is its own inferior politics that has dug the party's grave over the years.
Today, the Gandhis are completely cut off from the reality
Indira Gandhi certainly was a big leader that the Congress produced, but at the same time, it was her centralising leadership which laid the groundwork for the party's current state of affairs. The party's grassroots connection was systematically destroyed so that the family could flourish and there was no alternative power centre. The ploy has culminated to the current times when the Gandhis – Sonia or Rahul – are completely cut off from the reality, neither understanding issues on the ground nor having any clue on how to solve them. The result is there for everybody to see.
Congress cannot even think beyond Rahul or Priyanka, which is disastrous
Years of cultivation of the sycophantic culture has ensured that the party today cannot think beyond either Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi – even if they prove to be ineffective. It is a tragedy that the partymen have to continue to toe the family's line knowing very well that they have to stick to it for there is no alternative to the failing dynasty.
The Congress' problems have been multiplied by thoughtless acts by the top leadership and the lack of charisma to connect to the common man. In an India which is changing and thinks jobs and security matter more than the communal-secular or rich-poor divide, the party's leaders continue to aim at the wrong targets.
Rahul Gandhi spends time with peasants, undertakes marches, addresses rallies, and even plays soft Hindutva sometimes. But he never succeeds to get into the thought process of the common man. He often says Congress is a 'soch' [a thought] but forgets to update that into the 21st century variant. Competing with Modi and Amit Shah's relentless out-of-the-box thinking is a far stretch for them, since the Congressmen's brains even forget to apply common sense at times. They continue to attack Modi as an individual while they should take on his policies and politics. There is no dearth of issues for the Congress to capitalise on to challenge Modi, but does it have the skill and will? The poverty of thought in the Congress' exclusive, semi-open camp is chilling.
Charisma was once the Congress' strong point, and even that is lacking today
The Congress has traditionally been a party of charismatic leadership than cadre-based organisational skills. Today, it has even lost that capital as Modi has won hearts with both his own charisma and his party's strong network on the ground.
On top of it, the Congress has not updated itself like the BJP has in terms of adopting technology to reach out to the common man every minute. When even an ordinary member of the party, leave alone the PM or any of his government's ministers, has made it a habit of actively engaging with the faceless common man, the Gandhis have continued to be inaccessible, refusing to open up. It's only during the elections that they face the common man as the successors of the populist leader Indira Gandhi, but politics today is not just about five-yearly votes. A medium like Twitter has made politics a regular referendum for today's politicians. Modi has adapted to this with ease. Rahul Gandhi still doesn't know how to go about it.
Opposing Modi for the sake of opposing has not been received well by people
Mindless resistance to whatever Modi does has also hurt the Gandhis badly. The enemy is also right at times and deserves respect. The Gandhis have always tried to resist whatever the Modi government has tried to do, thinking it would give them mileage. With regard to demonetisation, the Congress' stubborn anti-Modi stance to show its 'pro-people' face has backfired, even in a not-so-urbanised state like UP. It is reason enough for soul-searching but is the Congress seriously interested in such an exercise?
After the hammering in UP and Uttarakhand (Punjab, Goa and Manipur results don't really speak anything big for the Gandhis for the results in those states had their own reasons) one suspects that the brand the Congress tried to sell hard – Rahul Gandhi – has been decimated. If they still continue with the man, then it is a choice of suicide. But even if they don't, death is imminent.
Should Sonia Gandhi call off the party, something the Mahatma had preferred several decades ago?