One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promises during his general elections campaign was to deliver a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (Congress-free India). With his party sidelining the Congress in two more strongholds in the recent state elections, Modi seems firmly on the road to delivering on his promise.
The state elections in Haryana and Maharashtra were one of the latest setbacks to hit the grand old party of India. But more than the margin of victory, what was remarkable was that it came in two states which had been Congress bastions till now. While the party had been in power in the Marathi state for 15 years, its government enjoyed equally strong support in the Jat-populated state winning two consecutive terms since 2005. The recent loss has now reduced Congress government to only one of the ten biggest states, Karnataka.
So, is the party really over for Congress?
While many political commentators have been commenting on how it is game over for the party, others argue that it is too early to predict and that the party can bounce back like it did during 1980 and 2004. This time it is not going to be an easy task, though. Congress’s resurgence in the past was carved out by two of its most influential leaders.
In 1980, when the party had been written off post its Emergency election debacle, Indira Gandhi took the matter in her hands and worked on reviving its popularity. Gandhi strategically planned a Congress comeback by striking deals with various groups and creating friction between her enemies. Her agreement with the religious leader of Jama Masjid right before the elections to secure the vote of the Muslims was one such example. It was her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi’s turn to lead the party to victory in 2004 amidst BJP’s hugely popular India Shining campaign. But unlike in the past, the ailing party now has no saviour. Projected as the future of the party, Rahul Gandhi’s performance has been anything but successful. Many even blame him for the Congress’s rout. Although Rahul’s sister Priyanka’s name has been floating around as a person who can turn the fortunes around for Congress, it is unlikely that Priyanka will be able to achieve that feat anytime soon.
A 1980 or 2004 scenario is going to be even more difficult for Congress because of the man at the centre. Modi is no Morarji Desai or Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His six months of rule has been characterized by efficiency and innovativeness. Unlike the Desai-led Janata Party alliance which was formed on a weak foundation and started crumbling within weeks of formation of the government, Modi enjoys a strong majority in the parliament. He has proven to be a clever politician capable of perfectly understanding the mindset of the Indian electorate. Not just the local electorate, Modi has wooed audiences in international community as well -- from Nepal to the USA. In a clever move, Modi has now started to commemorate the birth of the country's political stalwarts by initiating projects for the masses. While the Clean India campaign kick started on Gandhi Jayanti, another leader JP Narayan’s birthday was marked by initiating the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, a project for the poor.
This is a reflection that Modi is here to stay and stay for a long time. This makes the Congress’ comeback even more strenuous. Congress has already put its hands down surrendering . During the state elections, while Modi spoke at about two dozen rallies in Maharashtra, the Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi managed to address only a few. As eminent columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta suggested, the Congress was being defeated by their ‘defeatism’. This lacklustre effort from Congress accentuates the fact that it is already suffering from defeatism. Looking at the things as they stand now, the all the grand old party can do is sit and watch its sorry spectacle. As the Modi bandwagon continues to roll, the Indian National Congress faces the dreary prospect of being rechristened Indian Notional Congress.