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Congress gropes for answers to saffron surge

  By Vijay Darda | 05-12-2016

If the results of the local body elections in Maharashtra and the parliamentary and assembly by-elections that preceded these polls are to be taken as an indication of the political state of affairs, then the BJP’s dominating trend that began in the 2014 general elections is firmly on the ascendant. It is not getting tripped by road blocks like demonetisation.

In Maharashtra, almost two years of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ regime and the two and half years of Modi Sarkar have done nothing adverse to dent this popularity. Even the obviously painful decision of demonetisation has not had an adverse impact on the BJP’s electoral fortunes. Quite simply, the Congress that has been a dominating force in state politics for long, has been groping for answers to this saffron surge. The same holds true for the Nationalist Congress Party, a one-time partner of the Congress.

In the process of its ascendance, the BJP has been giving enough reasons to its one time senior saffron ally the Shiv Sena to worry about the future. Specially in the light of the Mumbai Municipal Council elections that are not far away. With its new-found confidence, the BJP would surely want to rewrite the terms of the alliance for sharing the 227 seats, with leaders already indicating that they would not settle for anything less than 115 seats. This means a loss of primacy for the sulking Shiv Sena bosses, even in Mumbai. If they do accept BJP’s terms, then it would be a bitter pill for their egos to swallow. Or else, the fun would begin.

But this is the time for some serious introspection by the Congress. After all, in both the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in 2014, the people did not vote for the BJP because they had discovered a sudden fountain of love for the saffron party. On the contrary, they had opted for a change because of the strong disaffection for the Congress leaders, and such a sentiment does not spring overnight. It is the cumulative impact of practising dynastic politics from the village level upwards. This is an embodiment of the Congress culture of ensuring that every available position right from the Lok Sabha seat downwards remains within one family. It is this singular feature that is responsible for the mortal decline of the Congress party and is prompting historians to write its epitaph. But then the 2014 polls are history, and it is the present that matters.

In this respect, it has to be asserted that for the people in rural areas, the Congress is still the party that remains close to their hearts. But the ground reality is that even in the rural areas, there is no connect between the voters and the leaders and activists of the Congress, for the umbilical cord that binds the two has been snapped.Or else, there is no reason as to why the discontent among the of masses that have been deprived of their basic life blood of existence – money in hard notes – could not have been tapped in these elections.

It is not as if the pain caused by the demonetisation is the only sore point in the lives of the common masses. There is the state government’s continued apathy towards the farmers’ suicides, and the series of scams that keep surfacing with sickening regularity. However, the critical element is that the Congress lacks the connect with the people at the ground level that would translate these sentiments into a political message. Its senior leadership remains content with ensuring that those related to them or belonging to their closed coterie should get past the post in the elections, and the others are left to fend for themselves.

This malaise that affects the party in Maharashtra is also in evidence in other states like Madhya Pradesh, where in the recent by-elections the party could not get its act together despite a fresh face in Himadri Singh (hand-picked by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her deputy Rahul) putting up a valiant fight against an entrenched BJP nominee in the tribal Shahdol Lok Sabha constituency. That she managed to shave off 2 lakh votes from the victory margin of the 2014 polls is a tribute to her candidacy. But the main problem is the failure of the leadership in the state to put in place a winning strategy in the face of a well-coordinated ,well-managed and well-executed campaign by the BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. He ensured victory in the face of the dominant anti-demonetisation trend.

This of course is not the end of the road for the Congress. But there is one thing when it comes to electioneering. It is the realisation that times have changed, and with it the people’s aspirations have been transformed. The era when the people would vote for the Congress on the basis of its past – the sacrifices of leaders beginning from Mahatma Gandhi and going down up to Sonia Gandhi – is over. This is a rich history of which the party is justifiably proud of. But then youth of the country are living in the present, and have no connect with this glorious past. Their mantra is perform or perish. So, the Congress has to reinvent itself in sync with the present times. In this era, mere Modi bashing is not enough. After all, no election can be won on the basis of past strategy.

Modi used Congress bashing to win the 2014 elections, so this is a used-up approach and cannot be recycled. There has to be a proven viable alternative both in terms of policies and leadership at all levels. The Congress has to work out this riddle for itself, and it cannot hope that deliverance would come from above, and certain power would one day emerge and solve all their problems magically. The sooner this reality is internalised by the party at all levels the better it would be for health of the polity. The current one-sided discourse is not healthy for our democracy.

Before I conclude…

The deadlock in the Parliament does not augur well. For the polity nor does the high decibel war of words between the Opposition and treasury benches serve the cause of democracy well. The prime minister is the leader of the Lok Sabha. He has the initiative to set the tone of the proceedings not only in the Lower House but also in the Upper House by his personal approach. It would not be idle to presume that all parliamentary tensions would vanish in thin air, should prime minister Narendra Modi simply step up and make a few decisive interventions. Both the cause of the Parliament, the winter session in particular and democracy would then be served well…


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Congress gropes for answers to saffron surge


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