The obituary has been lengthy within the writing, dusted off each time the Congress loses one other election. Now, nonetheless, the potential for the grand outdated celebration disappearing into oblivion has change into very actual. Impervious to that concept to date, the realisation is lastly dawning on the Congress—that it could be on the cusp of extinction if it doesn’t take fast steps to avert its demise. Therefore a ‘Nava Sankalpa Shivir’, a three-day brainstorming session in Rajasthan’s Udaipur from Might 13 to fifteen. It’s the fourth such conclave since 1998, however the final one was held approach again in 2013, a yr earlier than the celebration delivered its worst Lok Sabha efficiency. Greater than 400 Congress delegates will collect right here to urgently debate methods to fight the fast challenges—meeting elections in 10 states within the subsequent two years—earlier than gearing up for the 2024 normal election. These states account for 144 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 seats, of which the Congress presently has simply 9. Though it gained meeting elections in three of those states the final time, it misplaced the federal government in a single—Madhya Pradesh—to inside feuds, a problem that has reared its head in two different states—Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh—as effectively.
Illustration by Nilanjan Das
The Congress now finds itself within the deepest electoral abyss it has ever confronted. Its Lok Sabha tally is at a historic low—44 in 2014 and 52 in 2019. Its nationwide vote share has plummeted to 19 per cent from its 50-year peak of 49.1 per cent within the 1984 normal election. Of the 30 states (together with Delhi and Puducherry) within the nation, it’s in energy solely in two—Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh—and is a minor coalition associate in two others: Maharashtra and Jharkhand. The celebration has misplaced 37 of the 50 meeting elections up to now eight years. However its issues in the present day usually are not simply electoral. As senior chief Manish Tewari tells india in the present day, “Each political celebration requires 5 fundamentals which might be shifting components however should work in cohesion to make sure electoral and nationwide relevance—ideology, narrative, organisation, entry to sources and management. All these variables want to come back collectively for the online energy of that organisation to exhibit electoral efficacy. All 5 in the present day are a problem within the case of the Congress.”
Their choices could also be collective, however the three Gandhis have a thoughts and functioning fashion of their very own, sending blended alerts throughout the celebration
It’s these 5 key areas that the Congress should repair at its Udaipur conclave. However nobody is aware of higher than Tewari that it’s an train in futility. He was a part of the so-called G-23 or group of 23 veteran Congress leaders who dared to problem the sport of musical chairs being performed by the three Gandhis—Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka—over the celebration management in August 2020. They’d demanded that the celebration appoint “accountable and accessible” leaders who might reinvigorate the organisation. However being previous masters in delaying, diluting and destroying any opposition inside, the Congress excessive command (learn the Gandhis) gained over a lot of the dissidents by giving them positions in main advisory committees. They even agreed to carry elections to the put up of celebration president inside a yr, however then postponed the train to September 2022, citing Covid and meeting elections. The celebration appears inured to the large electoral setbacks, refusing to result in radical change even whereas being conscious that every election misplaced is yet another nail in its coffin. Even ballot strategist Prashant Kishor, who made an impassioned presentation to the highest Congress management just lately, determined in opposition to becoming a member of the celebration partly as a result of it was reluctant to revamp its working fashion.
The recognized knowns
A lot of the Congress celebration’s ills are ‘recognized knowns’. As an example, when one factors out how Kishor in his presentation stated that within the 2019 normal election, the Congress fielded candidates who had misplaced twice consecutively in 170 Lok Sabha constituencies, veteran Congress chief and former Union residence and finance minister P. Chidambaram stated, “I’m certain this knowledge is accessible someplace in some recordsdata in some cabinet within the Congress celebration. Had we put collectively that knowledge and analysed it, we might not have fielded these 170 candidates.”
Likewise, Kishor’s suggestion that the Congress repair the “coalition conundrum” and strategically align with different events, enjoying second fiddle in areas the place one other non-BJP celebration was sturdy, is one thing the Congress might have carried out in West Bengal within the 2021 meeting ballot. A survey by its personal knowledge analytics division indicated that the celebration ought to have shaped a pre-poll alliance with the ruling TMC. But, the Congress didn’t go down that route. The celebration squandered its alternatives in Uttarakhand and Goa too, the place the anti-incumbency in opposition to the BJP governments ran excessive.
Graphic by Tanmoy Chakraborty
However none of it appears to be one lesson too many for the Congress. If celebration insiders, together with Gandhi household loyalists, are to be believed, the celebration is but to stir into motion in states scheduled to go to polls this yr and the subsequent. In Gujarat, for example, the place the election is due later this yr, its high chief Hardik Patel has overtly expressed resentment in opposition to the celebration and there was no resolution on inducting Naresh Patel, an influential chief of the Patidar neighborhood that holds sway in 48 of the state’s 182 meeting seats whilst different events are wooing him.
Most Congress leaders say the celebration’s inertia comes from its tradition of consensus constructing
The celebration’s lack of ability or unwillingness to take quick and well timed choices has been considered one of its main failings. A number of Congress leaders consider the celebration gained three elections in 2018 and put up a robust battle in Gujarat in 2017 as a result of it took sooner decisions. All of them, no matter age and allegiance, agree that the celebration’s inertia in decision-making is rooted in its tradition of consensus-building, which has reached one other degree below the Gandhi trio. Not taking a call is commonly a method adopted to keep away from confrontation and preserve the established order. Thus, elections in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh are scheduled for subsequent yr, but no seen effort has been made to cease the feud over the chief ministerial chair from spilling out in public. There isn’t a readability on state management in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, two states headed for polls later this yr.
Who would be the chief?
The celebration’s actual downside is that the three Gandhis proceed to exert a collective and particular person maintain over the celebration. Rahul might have relinquished the put up of celebration president, proudly owning accountability for the crushing Lok Sabha defeat in 2019, and mom Sonia taken over as ‘interim’ president, however his consent remains to be sought in celebration choices. Priyanka typically acts as consensus-builder between mom and son, however sometimes, she acts on her personal preferences, as within the Navjot Sidhu case in July 2021 or in participating with Kishor just lately.
Graphic by Tanmoy Chakraborty
The trio might take choices collectively, however every has a thoughts and functioning fashion of their very own, sending blended alerts throughout the celebration. Sonia depends on the counsel of senior leaders, and acutely feels the absence of Ahmed Patel, her gatekeeper and sounding board until his loss of life in 2020. His absence has left an enormous communication hole has opened up between the Household and celebration.
Rahul has a extra expansive and nameless suggestions mechanism. He repeatedly receives info from grassroots staff, mid-level leaders and even outsiders. He might attain out to P. Chidambaram on an financial problem or comply with the transient of a journalist on the India-China border battle. Such suggestions, although helpful, has little political or electoral calculation constructed into it.
Priyanka is a extra instinctive politician who makes a public show of driving pillion on a scooter in Uttar Pradesh or hugging a tea property employee in Assam. She has no everlasting favourites and subscribes to the horses for programs components. She now aspires to play the identical function for Rahul that Patel did for Sonia. It was she who satisfied Sonia and Rahul to make Udai Bhan, a loyalist of former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the state Congress president despite the fact that the choice went in opposition to Rahul’s favorite Randeep Singh Surjewala.
Their persevering with maintain on the celebration however with none clearly-defined function has given rise to completely different units of loyalists for the three Gandhis, inflicting additional division and bickering throughout the celebration. Resolving the management, due to this fact, must be the celebration’s first precedence, urge skilled advisors inside and outdoors the celebration, together with Kishor, whether it is to finish the inertia and confusion.
With organisational elections below approach, there’s sturdy hope that the celebration will get a brand new president in September. Sonia is reluctant because of her well being points. Rahul has expressed no want to date to be a presidential candidate. He doesn’t need Priyanka to contest both, and he or she is unlikely to go in opposition to his want. Some insiders predict two situations—the Household will area a loyalist or the G23 might put up somebody of their alternative. Congress Chief within the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury says the celebration just isn’t wedded to the concept of solely a Gandhi main the celebration. “If any succesful chief is accessible who can revive the Congress, your complete celebration will supply full cooperation. In spite of everything, up to now additionally, leaders like Narasimha Rao have helmed the celebration,” he says.
The place’s the celebration?
Its poor organisational construction is rising as the most important weak spot of the Congress, one thing Chidambaram attests to when he says the celebration is nice at governance when it’s in energy, however features poorly when in Opposition. As he places it, “Once we run the federal government, we fail to run the celebration. Most senior leaders are inducted into the federal government and never spared for celebration work. When Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh had been prime ministers, we uncared for the celebration organisation. As a result of the celebration equipment and work had been uncared for, after we are within the Opposition, the celebration organisation has not picked up the obligations or carried the message and the narrative of the celebration.”
On paper, all its committees are in place. What’s missing is a system of accountability
And elections, because the BJP and now different regional events too have efficiently demonstrated, are gained on the very micro unit—the polling sales space. Organisational elections within the Congress have been below approach since April 15, proper from the sales space degree. The identical train had been carried out in 2018 too, as mandated each three years. On paper, such committees—on the sales space, block, district and state degree—have come into existence.
The issue is that there is no such thing as a common system of monitoring efficiency or accountability of the leaders heading the respective organisational buildings. The Congress president appoints an AICC (All-India Congress Committee) in-charge in each state. They, in flip, are tasked with monitoring the efficiency of the state unit, report back to the president and take corrective measures each time wanted. The in-charges are anticipated to spend most of their time within the states they’re dealing with. The truth is something however. The BJP, alternatively, operates like a company entity, demanding accountability from its celebration leaders and eradicating them if they’re discovered wanting.
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The Congress can also be speaking of generational change in management. Fifty per cent of the delegates at its Chintan Shivir might be leaders below the age of fifty. Chidambaram believes all posts on the block, district and state degree should even be manned by folks below 50. Manickam Tagore, a Lok Sabha member from Tamil Nadu and in-charge of Telangana, says the decision-making course of within the celebration ought to contain these whose future is at stake and never those that are previous their prime. This was high of the record in Kishor’s prescription too—all leaders above the age of 70 step apart.
What’s the message?
It’s not only a dearth of next-gen leaders but in addition the absence of a cohesive counter-narrative in opposition to the BJP and different regional events that has contributed to the celebration’s electoral misery. The BJP has almost perfected its discourse across the politics of Hindutva, muscular nationalism and the labharthis (beneficiaries). The Congress response has been advert hoc and reactive at finest. It first batted for smooth Hindutva, what with Rahul declaring himself a janeudhari Shiv bhakt and engaged in a spot of temple-hopping. When that failed to chop any ice, because it was certain to, the Congress modified tack saying it was for Hinduism and never Hindutva, a binary largely misplaced on the citizens.
Nor has the Congress been capable of construct any convincing financial narrative. The much-touted Nyay or Nyuntam Aay Yojana, a minimal revenue assure scheme, hardly received any traction in 2019. Inflation and unemployment have been credible points, however they haven’t but succeeded in denting the recognition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “We had been protesting in entrance of the Raj Bhavan in Jharkhand in opposition to the value rise,” says Avinash Pandey, member of the Congress Working Committee and the Jharkhand in-charge. “Although individuals are struggling due to inflation, folks across the protest web site checked out us in a approach that made us really feel like fools losing time on random points. Hijab, halal and loudspeakers appear extra vital points.”
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The Congress used to attract its power from a rainbow vote financial institution of a number of castes and communities resembling Dalits, OBCs and Muslims. Because the Nineteen Nineties or the post-Mandal period, it has progressively been ceding its assist base to caste- and state-based regional forces such because the Samajwadi Celebration in UP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, the TMC in Bengal, and to Muslim events such the AIMIM and AIUDF. Publish 2014, the BJP has usurped the Dalit and OBC votes. In 2019, the saffron celebration netted 41 per cent of the Dalit and 51 per cent of the OBC vote whereas the Congress received 28 and 18 per cent, respectively, in response to the india today-My Axis survey. A number of surveys have proven how the Congress’s share of the Muslim vote dwindled from greater than 40 per cent earlier than 2014 to round 30 per cent in 2019.
The Congress is conscious that it desperately wants a message to counter the politics of polarisation. Six high-powered topic committees have been shaped to deliberate on the economic system, politics, farmers’ points, social justice, organisation and youth. Most leaders speak about propagating the founding ideas of the Congress—social justice and inclusion, celebrating variety and secularism. However they’re nonetheless groping at the hours of darkness to articulate it in an electorally efficient language. CWC member and normal secretary in-charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken is hopeful that the Congress will have the ability to lure the younger, aspiring voter with the “exemplary governance” information of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.
What about having a mascot just like the BJP has in Narendra Modi to ship the message? Rahul, clearly, has did not be one. Three-time Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor, nonetheless, believes this will likely not directly profit Congress in the long term. “I see the BJP projecting a one-man present, the PM because the omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful strongman, versus the Opposition providing a staff of skilled, succesful and much more broadly consultant leaders to serve the folks. The one-man fashion has not served the nation very effectively, because the nation’s financial indicators verify. A extra broad-based various might do significantly better,” he says.
Wanted, just a few good allies
The Congress leaders might wish to consider that Rahul stays the prime challenger to Modi, however different Opposition leaders resembling West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Telangana chief minister Ok. Chandrashekar Rao are difficult that certainty. All of them have instantly or not directly displayed their nationwide ambitions and brought pot photographs on the Congress management, notably Rahul.
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Nor does the Congress appear to be paying a lot heed to Kishor’s components for revival—that the Congress concentrate on the almost 200 (out of 543) seats the place it’s in direct contest with the BJP and play second fiddle in states the place a non-BJP celebration could also be stronger as in West Bengal or in Telangana. This might assist consolidate the non-BJP votes and ultimately allow the Opposition events to trounce the saffron problem. It’s one thing even a Trinamool Congress chief advocates, although as a phrase of warning. “Please concentrate on profitable in states the place you might be alone in opposition to the BJP. Go away the states the place regional events are sturdy. You’ll nonetheless have extra seats than any regional celebration. If this precept is adhered to, there might be no want for any grand alliance of Opposition events to beat the BJP.”
Regional leaders blame congress for conceitedness; it dismisses their ‘exaggerated ambition’
However the reverse appears to be occurring. The Congress fought in opposition to the Samajwadi Celebration and the TMC in UP and West Bengal, respectively, this yr. In Goa, it needed to jostle with the TMC and the Aam Aadmi Celebration to occupy the anti-BJP house. In Telangana, the Congress will problem the KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Whereas regional events blame the Congress’s conceitedness for stopping the formation of any alliance, the celebration, in flip, dismisses them as representing the “exaggerated ambitions” of regional leaders.
It’s this very conceitedness that the Congress must shed if it needs to outlive. It additionally has to get practical and get its home so as with out losing even a second. It has to seek out the suitable message, the suitable messenger to ship it and mobilise a military of foot-soldiers that may act as power multipliers. For the grand outdated celebration, it’s actually now or by no means.