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Getting better from worse: The Congress challenge

  By Vijay Darda | 07-07-2014

After the May 2014 General Elections, the Congress party has been reduced to its worst-ever position in the history of democratic politics in our country. In states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra where it has been holding an unchallenged position for decades, it has been brought down to a humiliatingly low status. The reasons shall be debated for a long time to come. It may even be argued that only from the rock bottom you rise upwards. The logic being that you cannot go down any further.

But in politics nothing is axiomatic. For the Congress to revive from this position, it is nothing something that would happen automatically. Nor would any purpose be served by putting forward arguments that go back in time to 1977 or to recall that even the BJP had been reduced to just two seats in 1984. At best, these are palliatives to keep a patient in good humour. We know that 2014 is not 1977, and nor is the Congress akin to the BJP to fight back its way from a 1984 kind of defeat. Besides, it took the BJP 30 long years to recover from that setback. Does the Congress have the luxury of such a time span for recovery? The Congress recovery has to be quick, and it has no time to lose. This is in its essence is challenge for the Congress.

We have the state assembly elections due in Maharashtra and Haryana in the next few months. The manner in which the party fights these elections would show as to whether it has learnt any lessons from the May 2014 setback. It is not just victory or defeat that would matter. Of course that would be for the purpose of the numbers game. In the current situation, the more important element would be the way in which the party bosses respond to the entire challenge for fighting the elections and mounting an effective campaign. The key element in the May 2014 contest was that the people were simply not listening to whatever the Congress was saying. So, even if the data showed that under the UPA regime the economy had done much better as compared to the six- year NDA rule, the people were not listening. Clearly, there is something wrong with the messaging systems used by the party. The challenge is to fix this deficit.

The point is can the leaders of Maharashtra and Haryana with their track records in power for years still be trusted by the people? Have both the chief ministers — Prithviraj Chavan and Bhupinder Singh Hooda –established a reputation as administrators and leaders who could be trusted by the people? In Chavan’s case there is an added question. Is he personally willing to face the people of an assembly constituency of his choice? If the answer is no, and in all probability we have to come to this conclusion because in both these states the Congress has been decimated in the 2014 elections, then what else is the alternative? Or is the Congress mentally prepared for a defeat and is reconciled to losing these states as well? Has it accepted this as a logical fallout of the May 2014 defeat ?

One of the oft repeated statements in the aftermath of the May 2014 setback has been the communication failure on the part of the party and the government. It is also being argued that both the party and the government lost the battle of perception in the face of a high powered campaign launched by the winners. If indeed this is so, and there is no difficulty in accepting this to be the case to a large extent, then the next logical question is what is being done to address this deficit? To just recall one element of the Modi campaign, we have to point out that he started his public outreach programme way back in September 2013. Has Chavan even stepped out of the cosy comfort of his Mantralaya office even for a day since the doomsday — May 16 — to meet even a gram panchayat sarpanch in his village, leave alone address a string of public meetings to bridge the now accepted communication gap? Or is this too much of a tall order for ‘Mr Clean’ to expect that he would dirty his squeaky clean self with the dust of the rural environs of the state?

Just as nothing is axiomatic in politics, similarly there is nothing inevitable in politics. A determined leader is someone who works untiringly for his goals. The challenge before the Congress is to find leaders at the state level who can plunge themselves into the tasks in a military mission mode. Then to entrust them with these tasks, and support them to the hilt. There should be rewards for performance, and punishments for failure to deliver. The Congress has been strong when state leaders have been strong. There is a long list of such leaders in its history. Even in Modi’s success the same lesson is repeated. A strong state leader has been able to capture the imagination of the country.

Considering that a week is a long time in politics, three months are like an eternity. The elections in Maharashtra and Haryana thus offer an opportunity and challenge to undo the disaster of May, 2014. Getting better from a worse position is always an incentive for anyone. It is also well established that at the level of the assembly constituencies man-to-man the Congress leaders are better placed than their rivals. The point is will they stand up and deliver?

The Congress leaders have also to get over the malaise of their over-dependence on the Gandhi family. No doubt the party has the good fortune of being blessed with a selfless leadership that does not hanker after power, and this by itself serves as a unifying force. But then all good things have their limitations. Both the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul are tireless campaigners, but if the state leaders keep eating away into the political capital accumulated by our national leaders, then who can rebuild the Congress?


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Getting better from worse: The Congress challenge


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