May 16, 2017, will mark the third anniversary of the historic results day of the 16th Lok Sabha election. That election was significant in various aspects. One, it saw a party winning majority by itself in a general election after 30 years. Secondly, it saw a non-Congress party winning a majority by itself for the first time since Independence.
This article will, however, focus on the third significant outcome of that election and it is about the unprecedented decimation of the Indian National Congress – a party which had ruled the country with dominance for a major period after the British departed in 1947.
The Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, the successors of the towering leaders like Jawahahrlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, could manage just 44 seats in the 543-member strong Lok Sabha. The unprecedented failure proved how weak the Grand-Old Party has become today, more so against the tsunami which the BJP had created under a sharp and shrewd leadership of Narendra Modi across the nation.
The Congress tally was an appalling 44 in 2014 polls
The Congress's tally of 44 (it later increased to 45 after the party won a bypoll in MP) is the lowest since the first election of 1952 (its previous lowest was 114 in the 1999 general elections) and it was a testimony to the fact that the party has lost acceptance in the new India which has emerged in the last 25 years or so – an India which is liberated from the shackles of political and economic narrowness and is free to conquer the world. The Congress, which has refused to adapt to the changes, has fallen behind a party like the BJP which has kept pace with the transformations better.
Though Modi had the ghost of the 2002 Gujarat riots looming large before and during the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, yet the Congress could not benefit much, thanks to its own leaders' inefficiency to inspire the common people. Be it Rahul Gandhi or senior leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar, the verbal attack on Modi and the lack of clarity in the words and thought of the top brass of the party played in the former Gujarat CM's favour.
|Lowest tally of the Congress under the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family|
|Jawaharlal Nehru (PM between 1947-64)||361 seats in 1962 general elections|
|Indira Gandhi (PM between 1966-77, 1980-84)||154 seats in 1977 general elections|
|Rajiv Gandhi (PM between 1984-89)||197 seats in 1989 general elections|
|Sonia Gandhi (president/declined to become PM in 2004)||114 seats in 1999 general elections|
|Rahul Gandhi (Congress vice president)/Sonia Gandhi||44 seats in 2014 general elections|
The Congress had no answer to Modi blitzkrieg
The Congress also lost the plot against the BJP's campaign blitzkrieg. When the saffron party was devising newer methods to mobilise public opinion (hologram meetings, chai pe charcha besides an all-out effort in terms of traditional rallies), the Congress was clueless about what to do next.
It also had the baggage of anti-incumbency against the tainted second UPA government and its introvert prime minister in Manmohan Singh was unfortunate to not to have got the backing of his own party. The cumulative result of all these saw the humiliation of the Congress like never before.
The Congress's show in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh spoke of its slide. Though the party's failure in the state was nothing new since Rajiv Gandhi's fall, but the 2014 election saw only the two Gandhis winning on behalf of their party in that state.
|Congress's tally in Uttar Pradesh in Lok Sabha elections (1952-2014)|
It clearly meant that the Congress had no grassroots hold left in the state which it had dominated once. It was just that the Gandhis won because of the family factor and there is no guarantee that it would succeed in retaining them in the 2019 general elections.
Congress lost several state & civic polls after the 2014 LS battle
That the 2014 results were not an aberration was also confirmed by the Congress's show in subsequent elections – whether Assembly or local. The Congress lost in state polls in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Delhi, Assam, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and UP. In Goa and Manipur, it finished as the largest party but yet lost the race to form government to the BJP.
|State-wise break-up of Congress's 2014 Lok Sabha tally (it could win seats in only 16 states)|
The only consolations for the party in these three years were Bihar where it is an ally of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad who came together to floor the BJP in the 2015 state polls and Puducherry and Punjab where it returned to power in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The Congress also bit the dust in various civic elections in states like Maharashtra and Odisha.
With the BJP's juggernaut rolling and the Congress increasingly losing hope on its future leadership, not many are willing to give it a chance in the next set of state elections as well as the big battle of 2019. It is an immense challenge for an ailing Sonia Gandhi who has returned to the centrestage recently to set things right, to deliver as she had done in 2004 and 2009.
The party, which will turn 132 this December, really needs to reinvent itself if it aspires to compete with the best. But given the condition it is in at the moment, who will inspire it?