Kommineni Srinivasa Rao
All India Congress Committee president Rahul Gandhi refused to take back his letter of resignation from the post of Presidentship and in doing so, created a lot of turmoil, but at the same time, also gave rise to fresh opportunities of leadership. For the Congress to be in this state of indecision more than a month after election results were announced, does not bode well for the party. It has only damaged the image of the grand old party. It was widely believed that Rahul Gandhi‘s resignation was a mere formality and that all would soon be well. Congressmen and others believed that he could be persuaded to stay on. However, Rahul appeared to be firm in his resolve to quit. There are two dimensions to this—while one gains the impression that Rahul was clear and firm in his decision, one also feels that one election loss proved to be a serious blow to him and one which he could not stomach, putting a question mark on his leadership.
The reason for a steep decline in the fortunes of the Congress party can be attributed to dynastic rule and its dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi family for growth. In contrast, the BJP had just two MPs in the Lok Sabha over three decades ago. Today, it is ruling over the entire country. If one looks at the Congress party, back then it had more than 400 members of parliament in the Lok Sabha. Today it is reduced to a rump without being eligible for Leader of Opposition status in the Lower House.
It must be pointed out that Indira Gandhi too lost at one time. However, she had the strength and stature to come back to power. After the assassination of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, with Sonia Gandhi‘s reluctance to assume leadership, PV Narsimha Rao stepped in. He also became the AICC president. PV earned a sterling reputation as a reformer who ushered in sweeping economic changes. As it turned out, for reasons which are not public, a political rift developed between Sonia Gandhi and PV.
The United Front government came to power later. Sitaram Kesri was the AICC president at the time and brought down two governments driven by his unsuccessful ambition to become prime minister. Later Sonia Gandhi wanted to become the Prime Minister but the opportunity eluded her and she decided to stay away from the top job.
Though the AB Vajpayee government performed well at the Centre, the Congress party with a fairly large number of seats in its bag, with AP alone contributing more than 30 to its kitty, formed the UPA coalition in 2004. Dr. Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister and during his tenure also, MNREGA or unemployment allowance, nuclear deal and RTI were enacted constituting landmarks of the time. Dr. Singh remained the Prime Minister for 10 years. It is said of him that while he himself was above corruption, he could not control the venality of other UPA leaders in his government.
The Congress party’s image suffered on account of this. Developments in Andhra Pradesh also contributed largely to the party’s overall decline. Sonia Gandhi must own responsibility for all these lapses and developments. Dr YS Rajasekhar Reddy‘s tragic demise in 2009, followed by the Congress high command‘s refusal to make his son YS Jagan Mohan Reddy the chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh in spite of an overwhelming majority of MLAs backing him, Sonia Gandhi’s undemocratic ways and the Congress leadership’s collusion with Telugu Desam leading to the incarceration of YS Jagan, ending in the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh— all these developments culminated in the decimation of Congress party in the Telugu states. Moreover, the Congress failed in trying to bring the TRS into its fold.
Added to all this, Narendra Modi earned a good reputation as the chief minister of Gujarat and compared to the popularity he enjoyed with the masses, powered by a strong publicity machine, Manmohan Singh and the Congress had no chance against the BJP and had to concede defeat in 2014.
The Congress had to suffer the humiliation of not being eligible for principal opposition party status. As a matter of fact, Dr Manmohan Singh agreed to step down as PM a year before the elections and pave the way for Rahul Gandhi‘s elevation. However, Rahul was not prepared for this at that time and it was indeed a peculiar situation, one can say on looking back. In fact, Rahul Gandhi publicly tore the ordinance brought out by Dr Singh’s government and lowered the image of the government in the bargain.
It was hard to be certain of Rahul Gandhi‘s presence in India back then because he went abroad frequently. The situation in Congress did not improve even after Rahul Gandhi‘s elevation as president. He was no match to PM Modi as an alternative.
The party‘s alliance with the TDP and the impression that Rahul Gandhi blindly went by what Chandrababu Naidu told him did little to shore up the fortunes of the Congress. If anything, it was seen as an example of political opportunism. As a result it failed completely to make a mark in the Telangana elections.
Similarly, after the results of the Lok Sabha elections were announced, it emerged that the Congress once again was ineligible for the status of principal opposition party. The Congress is unable to decide on a successor to Rahul Gandhi who is intent on quitting.
Even if a member outside the Gandhi family were to be made President of the party, there is no guarantee that the organisation would not be in the hands of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul in terms of control. While the BJP has emerged as a cadre-based party, the Congress is reduced to an organisation dependent totally on dynasty and a single family. The grand old party finds its self in dire straits because of this.
While the BJP is moving forward on its ideology whatever that maybe, the Congress seems to be lost and is in a state of utter confusion. For the Congress to recover from this state, it needs a strong, tall leader. The party needs to drive its ideology and functioning and become more vibrant. It must decide on its ties with regional parties. Only then would the revival of Congress become possible. Otherwise it would be reduced to a chapter in history.