The only political party that is always having the last laughs on the pathetically prolonged Congress dilemma and its manifestations is obviously the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and is greatly advantaged to stage a hat-trick of victory in the 2024 General Elections, even though the biggest national democratic exercise is more than two and half years away. The oldest political party of India, the Indian National Congress (INC or simply Congress), has been suffering consecutive routs in both the General Elections since 2014 and in most of the Assembly Elections in recent times, leading everyone to believe that the only second pan-India party, apart from the BJP since 2014, is caught in the throes of an irreversible decline and fall. It still remains a party bound irrevocably to the Gandhi family, despite the repeated failures of the leadership and internal conflicts led by several veteran Congress leaders called the G-23 demanding a change in leadership and holding organizational elections for more than two years now, after the debacle of the 2019 General Elections. The Congress High Command, instead of listening to their own stalwarts and discussing openly the issues, has been following a confrontational line thanks perhaps to the grand advice offered by the old guards, always supporting the Gandhi leadership in a mental framework akin almost to sycophancy and slavery.
The resignation of the then Congress President Rahul Gandhi after the rout in 2019 and his steadfast refusal to hold the post again, the growth of the G-23, the growing dissidence all across the country, the mess the party created in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh losing power after coming back to electoral victories, the continuing drama in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and the pending meet of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) failed, as always, to convince the ‘high command’ about the urgent need for structural changes and democratic reforms within the party. Instead, the loyal old guards pitifully prayed to Rahul Gandhi to reconsider and failing to do so requested the erstwhile President Sonia Gandhi to be the interim president to which she obliged. Thanks to a caustic remark by one of the most prominent Congress veterans of the G-23, Kapil Sibal, that he was not aware about who had been the taking the party decisions as there was no permanent leadership, the ‘high command’ finally called for a CWC meeting recently.
But alas, no crucial decisions were taken in the meeting about making the Congress united and strong. What had been seen and heard was that Sonia Gandhi confirmed herself as a full-time president and that a new president would be elected after she complete her term which is almost one year away and during which the crucial assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are to take place. Lady Gandhi further accentuated the divide by telling the 23 leaders of the differently-opinionated group to approach her directly for discussions and not through the media, failing miserably to understand why at all the G-23 was forced to go to the media. The old guards again pleaded with Rahul Gandhi to resume next year to which Rahul assured of reconsideration. Of course, the CWC promised party elections and a new president during August-September, 2022. The two leaders of the G-23 who were present in the meeting, unfortunately, lacked the courage to make bold demands which raises questions about the potent political impact of the group. The party gleefully delighted about the proceedings is again the BJP, because as long as Congress remains dynastic and weak it’s their furtherance of the ambition to capture the whole of India by 2024.
As is now obvious, the biggest setback that looms due to the prolonged dilemma of the Congress is for the prospect of forming a national united opposition front-as an effective force to counter the BJP expansion-notwithstanding the ardent efforts of Mamata Bannerjee who defeated the BJP loud and clear in her state of West Bengal. While the Congress high command always supported Mamata’s efforts the Congress state party in West Bengal did everything for a division of votes by forming an alliance with the Communist Party-Marxist (CPM) that directly favored the BJP plunge in the state in the West Bengal Assembly Elections-2021; it is only due to the mature decision of the voters who never wanted a communal party to come to power in their secular state that helped Mamata achieving a landslide, and of course, the electoral-strategy wizard Prashant Kishore who joined Mamata’s Trinamool (grass-root) Congress (TMC) was a great help in terms of strategy and planning. Ironically, the same Prashant Kishore who expressed his willingness to join the Congress to help them lead a united opposition has still not been realized.
This puts all the political opposition parties of the country in a dilemma too: they realize that any united front cannot be formalized without the participation of oldest political party and its pan-India status; but as has been proved in Bihar where the promising young leader Tejashwi Yadav lost by an agonizing margin to BJP in the Bihar Assembly Elections-2020 due mainly to the non-performance of his prime ally Congress and in Assam where the Congress failed to work out an understanding with the emerging regional parties and instead joined forces with another communal party thus effectively creating a division of votes which clearly favored a worried BJP retain power in the Assam Assembly Elections-2021; barring Maharashtra where Congress is still sticking successfully to the opposition coalition government in spite of the some stray contrary comments made by its leaders now and then, in most of the other states the party has been viewed as a liability for any opposition alliance.
The case of the state of Punjab which is always considered the unassailable stronghold of the Congress party comes as the latest case in support of the party being called a liability and mostly, inadvertently or otherwise, favoring the BJP in expanding their roots. The Punjab crisis led to the ousting of the strong Chief Minister and Congress veteran Captain Amarinder Singh who now is reported to be moving toward joining the BJP, like numerous other promising Congress leaders leaving or planning to leave the party over the past two years. The Congress high command, mainly Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, sided with a comically inconsistent Navjot Singh Sidhu who, even after fulfilling his target of assuming the state Congress chief post and having a change of chief minister and government, recently resigned from the post and a few days later did an about-turn rejoining his post, supposedly after his talks with the Congress ‘high command’, and in an immaculate dynastic hold the party is projecting Priyanka Gandhi as the new Chief Ministerial face for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections early next year. Punjab too will go for assembly elections during the same time and the present Congress-created crisis favors the BJP strongly to consider make a tremendous fight to gain power for the first time.
Nobody can guess with conviction how and when this Congress dilemma is going to end or end the party itself from the Indian election scenario. For any tangible action by Congress one will have to wait for another year. In this perspective the role of the G-23 is crucial in trying to debate within the party and convince the party for a change that is so much needed to change its tag of an ‘unreliable ally’ in all forthcoming electoral alliances. There have been issues always to counter the ruling power: the disastrous handling of the Second Wave of COVID-19 and the vaccination hassles; the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) movement; the ever-rising fuel prices crossing the 100-rupee mark and still moving ahead; the still unresolved farmers’ agitation and the recent violence in Lakhimpur-Kheri in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh leading to deaths of four farmers; the increasing communal divide and lynching cases; and the alleged bulldozing of democratic norms and values. Rahul Gandhi, of course, makes the right kind of noises, but he vanishes afterward, at times into his unpredictably mysterious sabbaticals; and not allowing the Indian Parliament to function is clearly not an alternative. The oldest political party of India must introspect very intensely indeed and time is running out. Else, the monopoly of the BJP is set to continue like a juggernaut and in the furtherance of its most loved ambition of having a one-party and much-hyped Congress-free democracy in India.