By Harihar Swarup
Will Congress fade away? Will the 128-year old party, whose leaders fought for independence, a party having deep roots, just wither away? Judging by its performance in the Lok Sabha elections in May this year and, its dismal performance in the state assembly elections, latest being Maharashtra and Haryana, the future of the Congress looks gloomy. But it is not as gloomy as prophets of gloom predict. The Party may have lost touch with the people but it will be a gross exaggeration to say that the Congress will fade away. Survival of the Congress is necessary for survival of democracy in India. It should remain a viable alternative to the fast growing BJP. Congress leaders became autocratic and corrupt as there was no viable opposition for years. As the opposition became stronger, the Congress party started becoming weak.
Congress leaders over the years are themselves responsible for the Party’s present plight. The opposition started gathering momentum after the Chinese war and passing away of Jawaharlal Nehru. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s regime was too short to make an impact. Indira Gandhi inherited a Congress full of inner strife. The result was that in 1967, it lost assembly elections in entire North India and a combination of political parties– known as Samyukta Vidhayak Dal—ruled the Hindi speaking states. The Congress, however, continued to rule the centre.
The 1969 split in the Congress was a milestone in the party’s history. The split gradually ended opposition to Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the Party and she ultimately became the supreme leader. Her finest hour was in 1971 when Bangla Desh was created and 93000 Pakistani troops surrendered.
Her cardinal sin was imposition of emergency and since then downhill journey of the Congress began. Doubtless, Mrs Gandhi was a great leader but in her bid to control the Congress and the government, she gradually destroyed all democratic institutions. She also ushered in dynastic rule by entrusting all powers to Sanjay Gandhi and later to Rajiv Gandhi. The trend of dynastic rule gradually spread to all the parties and now the BJP too adopted family rule by giving election tickets to sons and daughters of its present or late leaders. Only the Left parties have not been affected by the dynastic phenomena but Marxists are themselves in decline.
The year 1985 was the finest hour for Rajiv Gandhi as the Congress secured highest-ever majority in Lok Sabha elections and culminated in completion of the 100 years of the Congress. The centenary year was celebrated with the Congress plenary session held in Bombay in June, 1985 where Rajiv Gandhi delivered his famous “power broker” speech.
After Rajiv, the decline of the Congress was sharp; the coalition era began and the Congress too failed to get a majority in the Lok Sabha. Narasimha Rao managed his minority government tactfully. Rao’s government will go down in history for bringing in economic reforms. For the first time, a BJP-led NDA government, assumed office in late 1990s with Atal Behari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister.
It shocked and surprised BJP leaders when the party was defeated in 2004 election and the Congress returned to power. Sonia Gandhi sprang yet another surprise when she declined the post of Prime Minister and, instead chose a non-political but a clean and honest leader, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to be the PM. He ruled for ten years, creating a record of sort. The 2009-2014 period proved disastrous for the Congress when the corruption touched a new high with 2-G spectrum and Commonwealth game scandals coming to the fore. The present Lok Sabha results were inevitable; the Congress was shrunk to 44 seats and, for the first time, BJP came to power with an absolute majority, ending the coalition era. A charismatic leader, Narendra Modi, was born. He is certain to rule India for five years.
The coming years are very difficult for the Congress and there is struggle ahead. The need for the Congress leadership is to revive the Party from the grass-root level; the focus should be on Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It is seen that in the states where the Congress got less than 20 per cent of votes, the party could never revive. The Congress leadership has to start from these states which included Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Also local level and state-level leadership, stifled over the years, has to be rebuilt.
Presently, the Congress, which in 10 years has lost power in five of nine states it commanded in 2004—has become a rudderless organization led by a dynasty to which a majority of Indians have become indifferent. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty will last till Sonia Gandhi is on the scene. She is aging and could no longer exert all her energies in poll campaigns.
Unfortunately, Rahul Gandhi has shown few leadership skills and qualities. In comparison Priyanka has better leadership quality and somewhat resembles her grandmother, Indira Gandhi. She has also the capability to sway masses. It was sufficiently visible when he campaigned in Rae Bareli an Amethi in the last Lok Sabha election. It is time she should come in public openly, help Sonia Gandhi and strive to lead young and dynamic leaders. It will not be exaggeration to say that the dynasty is in last stage and it should gradually be replaced by persons having natural leadership quality and mass following. (IPA Service)