The Grand Old Party’s imminent rout was a given in this general election. Even so, the Congress managed to surpass the worst predictions, embracing defeat on a scale too shocking to behold. The outgoing ruling party not merely crashed to a historic low of Lok Sabha seats and votes (44 seats for 19.3 per cent), it rendered itself ineligible to claim the position of Leader of the Opposition in the lower House, having secured less than 10 per cent of the total of 543 seats. The dubious records do not end there. The Congress did not touch the two-digit figure anywhere, not even in States that previously held up its honour in the face of calamity elsewhere. Through the Congress’s defeats of 1977, 1989, 1998 and 1999, it was saved from going over the edge by either the southern States, or Maharashtra and Assam. This time, the Congress fared abysmally even in its strongholds, picking up 19 of 129 seats on offer in the South, two of 48 in Maharashtra and three of 14 in Assam. The disgrace doubles when compared to the superlative performance of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party, which swept its own bastions even as it broke new ground in the South and the East. The Congress, on the other hand, was left with no straw to clutch; in the family pocket borough of Amethi, Rahul Gandhi trailed for several rounds before finally edging past the BJP’s Smriti Irani.
It does not help the Congress that during every crisis its leadership speaks of introspection without really turning the mirror inward. It has become a habit with the party to attribute triumphs to the Nehru-Gandhi family while placing the blame for failures on a mythical “collective” leadership. In a candid interview to Karan Thapar, senior Congress leader Kamal Nath admitted that his party had fallen behind the times and not realised India had become “aspirational”. Nonetheless, he fiercely defended the Congress vice-president, arguing instead that as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh should have been more effective in publicising the government’s achievements. Few people will dispute that Mr. Gandhi was well-intentioned in speaking for women's empowerment and democratisation of the party’s moribund structures. Yet, he never had an answer for how a perceived dynasty could oversee the democratisation process. It is here that the Congress’s tragedy becomes almost Shakespearean in its proportions. The family is the Congress’s life source, its oxygen. But just by being present at the top, the family prevents the emergence of any young and dynamic leadership outside of its own limited boundaries. One fleeting indication in the aftermath of the election was that the Congress may turn to Priyanka Gandhi for rescue. But will that change anything, when the verdict is emphatically against the family itself?