Irrespective of what becomes of Sachin Pilot, who was sacked both as Deputy Chief Minister and Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president following his revolt, the political drama unfolding in the desert state has re-ignited the debate about the future of the grand old party which seems to have nothing grand about it anymore.
Once the unchallenged ruler of the country, it now runs governments only in Punjab, Rajasthan, and Chhatisgarh apart from the union territory of Puducherry where it has Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) as its coalition partner.
It is a minor partner in the coalition governments being headed by other parties in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. The party fared extremely badly in the last Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which invariably play a crucial role in deciding the political fate of the country.
For the Gandhis, the first family of the Congress, UP also holds a symbolic significance. Ever since the days of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the state has been their stronghold and the party has always counted on its support to form governments at the Centre.
Nehru represented the Phulpur Lok Sabha seat in Allahabad (now re-christened Prayagraj) district till his death and after him, it was won twice by his sister, Vijay Laxmi Pandit. Then, the Lok Sabha constituencies of Rae Bareilli and Amethi became synonymous with the family, the former still being held by UPA chief, Sonia Gandhi.
No wonder with its pathetic performance in UP in the last Lok Sabha elections the Congress failed to win even one-tenth of the seats in the Lower House of the Parliament, a humiliation that still rankles the family. Equally galling has been Rahul Gandhi’s defeat in the family fiefdom of Amethi which is now represented by BJP’s Smriti Irani who was suitably rewarded by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi for her feat.
So what has gone wrong with the Congress? Why does it find itself in such a pathetic state that Modi has been taunting it with the slogan of “Congress Mukt Bharat” ( Congress-free India) which, on the face of it, sounds so very undemocratic because the end of Congress would, in the present political context, practically mean the end of Opposition in the country, which does not augur well for the health of democracy? But that is another debate.
For the present, let us focus on the reasons for the decline of Congress in the country.
First and foremost, the party has failed to produce a single charismatic leader after Mrs. Indira Gandhi who despite her dictatorial streak and the blunders she committed during the infamous Emergency, enjoyed the love and confidence of a huge chunk of Indian voters. One of the reasons that made people trust her was that the two non-Congress governments that followed her defeat in 1977 proved to be short-lived and added to the political instability in the country. She was back in power in 1980.
Her son Rajiv Gandhi, who became Prime Minister following her assassination in 1984, won a landslide victory riding the sympathy wave generated by her ghastly killing. But the suave and gentle Rajiv, who was quite a hit among women voters because of his good looks, lacked his mother’s charisma. Though a man with modern ideas and honest intentions, he could never connect with the masses like Mrs Gandhi. That ability is also missing in his wife, Sonia, and his children, Rahul and Priyanka who have all campaigned for the party and singularly failed to lift its fortunes.
In fact, Priyanka, the AICC general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, was considered to be the party’s secret weapon (the X factor) till she was formally drafted into the campaign in the last elections and failed to deliver. With this “brahmastra” misfiring in UP in 2019 the party’s rank and file were understandably crestfallen.
However, the party continued to revolve around its first family with its members apparently doing nothing to discourage the culture of sycophancy. In fact, a close look at what happened during Manmohan Singh’s premiership convinces one that the family indeed expected party leaders to kow-tow to them. The rise of “jee huzur” culture in Congress has effectively suppressed the growth of talent which has left a lot of leaders frustrated. Sachin Pilot is its latest victim. Loyalty, not merit is the criterion for promotion in the Congress today.
All this has combined to bring the party down and it will keep on sliding till it continues to be synonymous with the Gandhi family. The Gandhis are important but the party, Congressmen must realize, is far above them.