Decline of the Congress
The Maharashtra civic body’s election results give a clear message. India’s Grand Old Party, the Indian National Congress, is steadily declining. It is being more and more marginalized in the politics of the country. And the Left has been all but liquidated. It is the Right-wing parties like the BJP and the Shiv Sena (SS) that are coming up. In Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the BJP and SS fought each other fiercely and finished neck and neck. Thane went to the SS while Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party lost his stronghold Pune to the BJP. In every other civic body, the Congress performed uniformly poor. If Maharashtra is taken as being representative of the public mood in general, then one knows what to expect in Uttar Pradesh next month.
The decline of the Congress began when it chose to give up its traditional Nehruvian image of being a left-of-centre party and enthusiastically embraced the full-fledged capitalist path of development under the Narasimha Rao-Manmohan Singh duo in the 1990s. Simultaneously, it chose to project another image of itself – of being a party controlled and run by the Nehru-Gandhi family. The two factors together have done immense harm to the party which led India’s struggle for freedom. A culture of sycophancy and obsequiousness to the Family grew over the years and decades.
The people got the impression that the Prime Minister of the country can come only from one family. Proximity to the Family rather than one’s intrinsic merit and leadership quality became the key factor to rise in the party hierarchy. And no Congressman could ever dream of becoming the Prime Minister. This culture grew with the tacit consent of the Family. The Opposition parties called it dynastic rule and over time this idea sank in the collective psyche of the people. They believed the Congress was the party of the Nehru-Gandhi family. The Nehru-Gandhis did little to dispel this idea and instead of projecting the Congress as a vibrant party as much committed to internal democracy as to the democratic governance of the country, created just the reverse impression.
The net result is that the Congress leadership which, in effect, meant the Family, lost touch not only with the common people but also with the ordinary Congress workers. The drift and the downhill journey of the premier political party in the country continues. The last politically mature leader of the party is Sonia Gandhi who is aging. Unless the Congress can re-invent itself and build up a collective leadership of younger men and women, its prospects seem to be dismal.