In Dire Straits, Congress Party Desperately Needs A Rejig To Bounce Back

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Reduced to 44 in the Last Lok Sabha Elections in 2014 by the ‘Modi Wave’ , the Congress party under Rahul Gandhi were hoping to bounce back in 2019 . This belief among the party arose after it won the assembly polls in three hindi heartland states – Rajasthan , Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2018  .

These three wins it was hoped had helped revive the party and could pose a challenge to the BJP and oust Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha Polls of 2019 . But , the wish remained a wish and the hope was dashed to the ground as the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls came out.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who rode on a ‘Modi wave’ in 2014 returned with a Tsunamo in 2019 . With larger and more decisive mandate . BJP bagged a whopping 303 seats . It bagged 282 in 2014 and the NDA crossed the 350 plus mark. Modi era had truly set in in Indian politics . And it is here to stay for the next five years.

The Congress on the other hand were decimated yet again and improved marginally from 44 to 52 seats in The Lok Sabha . It was forgettable election for them . Only solace for them were the success of the party in Kerala ( best performance 19 out of 20 seats ) followed by Punjab ( 8 out of 13) . Its alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu ( 31 out of 38 seats ) was a success .

But its alliance with others – NCP ( 5 seats in total) in Maharashtra out of 48 seats , RJD ( Congress 1 seat, RJD 0) in Bihar out of 40 seats , and JD (S) in Karnataka ( only 3 seats to the alliance out of 28 seats, BJP won 25) were a disaster.

What came as a shock for the Congress was the disaster in Rajasthan . Failing to win any seat out of 25. In Madhya Pradesh it was routed too with only 1 out of 29. And in Chhattisgarh only 2 out of 11. The fact that Congress could not win despite having their own government’s in these three states calls for serious introspection and a wake up call. Clearly the heat will be on Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel to deliver.

At the post poll CWC meet , Congress president Rahul Gandhi in unusual angry comment slammed three senior Congress leaders for giving priority to the their son’s rather than the party and held them responsible for the humiliating debacle . He singled out Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot ( fielded his son Vaibhav Gehlot who lost from Jodhpur) , Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath fielded his son Nakul Nath ( won from Chhindwara) and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karthi ( won from Sivaganga).

The loss saw angry remark from Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who slammed the senior leaders for not supporting Rahul Gandhi. She remarked that her brother had waged lone battle in this 2019 Lok Sabha elections against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

What is more appalling is that the party’s highest decision making body the Congress Working Committee( CWC) does not have arguably its most articulate and charismatic MP from  Thiruvananthapuram ,Shashi Tharoor as a member. The suave former UN diplomat and  an  highly acclaimed writer is widely seen as an ‘International leader’ and  has a wonderful connect with the youth . Now a three-time MP, with a hat-trick this year from Thiruvananthapuram, it is time Congress utilises Tharoor’s charisma  in a much more pro- active way. Already battered with several leaders  losing in this  elections, hence it becomes all the more pertinent  for Congress to elevate Tharoor for greater role within the party. It needs fresh ideas, vision , leadership . And Tharoor could be the party’s answer to take them out of the crisis they are facing .

Coming back to the poll drubbing, it is surprising  that though the party boasts of eminent lawyers like Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Manish Tewari, P Chidambaram , Kapil Sibal one wonders why they did not properly guide or advise Rahul Gandhi on issues like Rafale ( complex technical issue ) , Balakot air strikes , stance post- Pulwama or tell him that the narrative chowkidar chor hai slogan was negative and the narrative would not work ?. Rahul addressed over 100 plus rallies but hardly got the support to take on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It are these flaws that Modi capitalised to the hilt with his nationalism rhetoric  and ensured that his narrative was forward looking decisive and the that of the others as one of negativity and the people backed Modi .

Taunted repeatedly as naamdar and dynast by Prime Minister Narendra Modi right through the poll campaign , Rahul Gandhi is under immense pressure to step down as president and hand over the reins to a leader not from the Gandhi family . But will the Congress look beyond the Gandhi’s is a big question?.

Two successive Lok Sabha Polls defeats has rattled has pushed the grand old party into a existential crisis . It needs a major rejig if it hopes to bounce back . It needs a new narrative and a decisive leadership. The biggest loss was that of Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi to Smriti Irani. And Congress out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh could win only 1 . Former party president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli.

Hence Rahul’s move to Wayanad in Kerala was timely . Many Congress leaders tasted defeat – Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora, Deepender Hooda, Salman Khurshid , RPN Singh, Sushmita Dev and leader of the opposition Mallikarjun Kharge.

The disaster in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh can be attributed to bitter factionalism within the party and it became evident the assembly results in these two states along with Chhattisgrah came out . The Congress took days to settle the battle for chief Minister’s post in three states . Such delay made one wonder what would be the situation be if the Congress along with its  alliance came to power at the Centre in 2019? This delay , lack of swiftness took the shine  away from the three victories.

In Rajasthan it was the Ashok Gehlot vs Congress state party president Sachin Pilot camp. Pilot camp wanted CM’s chair as he built the party from the scratch, Gehlot camp on the other hand cited experience . Rahul had to mediate to find a solution with Pilot named Deputy CM .

In Madhya Pradesh too, Jyotiraditya Scindia supporters wanted their leader to become chief Minister but the wily old fox Kamal Nath pipped him to the post. These internal Congress vs Congress battle in the two states ensured BJP’s success in the Lok Sabha polls. In Chhattisgarh too, Baghel had to face competition from rivals for the hot seat.  With Congress battling among themselves it was a win-win situation for the BJP

Lastly the party’s showing at the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 and 2019 were no doubt hugely disappointing . But what was more disturbing was to see the grand old party been treated with utter disdain by regional parties like RJD, Samajwadi party and Bahujan Samaj Party. That regional leaders like Tejashwi Yadav, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav had the audacity to keep Congress waiting for an alliance tie- up and deciding how many seats to allot them showed how low the party had slumped electorally. It is this fall in Congress standing that made the people renew their trust in Prime Minister Narendra Modi , BJP and the NDA. The grand old party cannot stay relevant if it plays second fiddle to regional parties . For that they have to re-invent themselves with the changing times . How they do it ? Remains to be seen .

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