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Congress marks its founding day with controversy

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New Delhi: The Congress’s 130th birthday, which was observed by the party on Monday, could not have been a happy occasion. True, the party has lately shown faint signs of life after its humiliating drubbing in the 2014 general election.

It fared much better, for instance, in the Bihar assembly elections than it has done in recent years and has been able to establish itself in rural Gujarat for the time being at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) expense.

The Congress also performed satisfactorily in an assembly by-election and in several local bodies in another BJP-ruled state – Madhya Pradesh.

But these few swallows do not make a summer. In Bihar, the “national” party came a poor third to the two major regional parties – the Janata Dal-United and the Rashtriya Janata Dal – and there is little chance that it will be able to move ahead in the near future.

Elsewhere in the Hindi belt, such as in Uttar Pradesh, it occupies the third or even fourth place behind the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP.

Since the scenario is virtually the same from West Bengal to Tamil Nadu via Odisha, where the regional parties rule the roost, the Grand Old Party can hardly be regarded as a national party anymore.

It is not all that difficult, however, in its time of distress, to pinpoint the root cause and even the very day – of the Congress’s decline and fall. The fateful date was June 26, 1975 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended all civil rights by promulgating the emergency.

“Please do not destroy the foundation that the Father of the Nation, and your noble father, had laid down”, Sarvodaya leader Jayaprakash Narayan, told her. “You inherited a great tradition, noble values and a working democracy. Do not leave behind a miserable wreck of all that. It would take a long time to put all that together again.”

It did not take long, however, to put democracy back on track, for the people of India, in their great wisdom, evicted Indira Gandhi and the Congress from power in the general election of 1977.

Although the party and the mother-and-son duo of Indira and Sanjay Gandhi returned to the corridors of power three years later, the Congress was described as a party of “power brokers” by prime minister Rajiv Gandhi during the party’s centenary celebrations in 1985.

Unlike the present occasion, the party did have reasons to celebrate at the time, but the storm clouds were already gathering over its future. The Congress lost power in 1989 and despite occasional sojourns in office since then – between 1991 and 1996 and between 2004 and 2014 – it has become a pale shadow of its former self for having been unable to secure an absolute majority on the two occasions, let alone win 415 of the 543 elected Lok Sabha seats with a 48.1 percent vote share as in 1984.

Why had the downhill slide? Several reasons can be mentioned. One is apparently the belief among the voters because of their 1975 experience that the party cannot be entrusted with total power anymore.

It is not impossible that this belief has been strengthened by the admiration for Indira Gandhi expressed by her grandson, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. “She is my role model”, he has said, adding that he would have acted like her as when she faced “severe assault” by “destabilizing forces”, which was the standard explanation for her draconian measures in 1975.

It is noteworthy that while other Congressmen have been mildly critical of the Emergency – Jairam Ramesh said it was a mistake because it enabled the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to enter the mainstream – the party’s first family has been largely silent.

A second reason why the Congress is stumbling is its familiar trust with corruption. It has lost power twice in recent years because of its association with sleaze – in 1989 when the Bofors howitzer scandal brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government and in 2014 when the plethora of scams led to the Manmohan Singh government’s ouster.

In addition to its authoritarian trait, as demonstrated in 1975, the party always had to continuously battle the perception of being corrupt.

The third and perhaps the most crucial reason is its pathetic dependence on the Nehru-Gandhis which has turned a “mass movement into a feudal oligarchy”, to quote from Rajiv Gandhi’s 1985 speech.

Rajiv Gandhi was referring to people outside his family, but it is the latter which has saddled the party with the burden of feudalism. What is worse, unlike the charismatic members of the family of the past who had wide acceptability despite their faults because of the party’s tradition of secularism and their role in building democratic institutions – till 1975 – the present generation lacks the earlier wide appeal.

And the reason is that they have shown neither the intellectual prowess of Jawaharlal Nehru nor the grit of Indira Gandhi, which was best demonstrated during the liberation of Bangladesh and the worst in 1975.

Instead, the present mother-and-son duo of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi resembles a decaying zamindar family surrounded by a band of servile courtiers who are out of touch with the outside world.(Amulya Ganguli,IANS)

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Will Congress Party be Able to Survive in Future in Face of Modi Onslaught?

It was India’s “Grand Old Party.” The Congress Party ruled the country for 55 out of 71 years since independence

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From left, Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi, her son and party President Rahul Gandhi, and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attend a Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi, May 25, 2019. VOA

It was India’s “Grand Old Party.” The Congress Party ruled the country for 55 out of 71 years since independence. But following the party’s crushing electoral debacle for a second time, there are questions about its future as the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty at its helm is unable to counter the most powerful leader India has produced in decades: Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Contrary to expectations, India’s mammoth general election turned out to be virtually a no-contest between Modi and Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi as it became a presidential-style battle.

“It is not what went wrong with the Congress, it is more of a story of what went right for Prime Minister Modi. He stood as a tall leader, as an achiever, as somebody who understood people’s aspirations,” says political commentator Rasheed Kidwai, who has authored a biography of Rahul Gandhi’s mother, Sonia Gandhi. On the other hand, “Rahul Gandhi is temperamentally not a power wielder. He is a trustee of power.”

The sixth member of the Nehru Gandhi family to lead the party, Rahul is often seen as a “reluctant politician”, despite his spirited campaign to revive the party and challenge Modi after its rout in 2014.

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves toward his supporters during an election campaign rally in New Delhi, May 8, 2019. VOA

Gandhi’s rallies drew crowds, but his efforts to project Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party as a threat to India’s secular traditions or to highlight issues of economic distress failed to resonate. His attempts to nail him for corruption in a deal to buy Rafale French fighter jets fell flat. His promise of a minimum wage for India’s poorest families was met with skepticism, even among the poor.

On the other hand, Modi, successfully wooed voters with his message of strident nationalism and subtle appeal to the majority Hindu community. Along with it, there was another theme: he projected himself as the humble son of a tea seller, a self made man who fought all odds to reach the top post in contrast to what he called the “entitled” Gandhi who had inherited the mantle of leadership of the Congress Party. It drew cheers from the country’s emerging middle and lower-middle classes, exhausted with dynastic politics.

The Congress Party’s tally of 52 seats in parliament was only a notch higher than the 44 seats it won in 2014 in the 545-member parliament. The party’s candidates returned empty-handed in half the Indian states and in several others the party only mustered a single digit tally.Modi’s BJP won 303 seats.

The scale of its losses not just crushed hopes the Congress Party would either lead a credible challenge to Modi or return as invigorated opposition – it once again raised questions over the leadership of the Gandhi family.

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The sixth member of the Nehru Gandhi family to lead the party, Rahul is often seen as a “reluctant politician”, despite his spirited campaign to revive the party and challenge Modi after its rout in 2014. VOA

Rahul Gandhi has offered to resign, but expectedly the party that has no second rung of leadership has turned it down. “The party will fulfill its role as a strong opposition. We need Rahul Gandhi to lead us in these challenging times,” Congress Party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said after a meeting of the party’s senior leaders on the weekend.

Rahul Gandhi also lost the Amethi constituency the party had held for 50 years in Uttar Pradesh state. In another humiliating blow for the Gandhi family, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was appointed in a senior post to revive the party, failed to make an impact. Rahul’s mother, Sonia Gandhi, won her party’s only seat in the state.

Rahul Gandhi’s victory in another constituency in South India means he will continue to be a lawmaker. Dynastic politics is not limited to the Congress Party: lawmakers from political families are a routine feature of Indian politics. But political commentators say in an era showing a preference for strong, populist leaders, Modi was the clear victor.

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here are questions about its future as the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty at its helm is unable to counter the most powerful leader India has produced in decades: Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wikimedia Commons

“There is a new sense of nationalism sweeping across many conventional democracies. There is a yearning for a strong leader that captures the public imagination,” according to political analyst Ajoy Bose. “I don’t really see the conventional Congress Party or the conventional leadership mounting a challenge to Modi. He has completely taken the country by storm.”

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Gandhi tried to give a positive message after the party’s rout. “We have a different vision of India [from Modi]”, said the head of the party that has long projected itself as a defender of India’s minorities, such as Muslims who worry about religious polarization and a rise in hate crimes since Modi came to power. “There is no need to be afraid. We will continue to work hard and we will eventually win.”

But it may be difficult to reinvent what analysts call a “fading party.” They say Modi’s BJP now occupies the dominant political space that the Congress party did for decades. “Congress is going to get reduced to, you know, like the Liberals did in Britain,” says Rasheed Kidwai. (VOA)