The 2014 electoral mandate has been rightly read as being in favour of Narendra Modi’s dynamic connect with aspirational India. Yet it is as much a vote against the Congress’s complete failure to understand the ground realities. In the aftermath of its worst-ever electoral defeat, the Congress is refusing to come to terms with its precipitous situation, retreating into a defence of its “first family”, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, rather than rigorously examining the causes of its ignominious defeat. The script that played out in the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting was on wearisomely predictable lines. The party dutifully placed full faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul, both of whom offered to step down, only to take back their resignations in the face of party protests, which were expected. The Congress Working Committee spoke of a “thorough revamp of the organisation at all levels,” leaving out the two leaders from the scope of the exercise. The Parliamentary Party grandly called for unity among “all progressive and secular forces in Parliament,” even as it complimented the Congress president and vice-president “for their indefatigable election campaigns across the country.” Ms. Gandhi herself seemed in denial, appealing to the party to draw “appropriate lessons from the unprecedented electoral setback,” without even minimally acknowledging the likelihood of the family’s role in the setback.
The Congress chief’s warning to the ranks to refrain from “public acrimony” is out of sync with the mood in the ranks of the party. Milind Deora had, in fact, echoed the frustrations of many when he said Mr. Gandhi’s advisers were wrong, and “so were the people they advised.” Shashi Tharoor similarly complained of lack of avenues for free expression within the Congress and argued that the Congress must articulate a vision that embraced the aspirations of the young who formed nearly 40 per cent of the electorate. But instead of welcoming these suggestions, as a party chastened by defeat would be expected to do, the Congress deployed dynasty loyalists to skewer the critics, portraying them as malcontents who felt threatened by Mr. Gandhi’s attempts to open up the party. The tragic truth is that the Congress has paid a huge price by indulging Mr. Gandhi at the cost of other potential leadership talent. In this environment, it is no surprise that there have been no takers for the Congress’s call to the Opposition to form an alternative secular bloc in Parliament. The party might have found a better response had it nominated one among its 44 victorious MPs — who won against a wave — as its parliamentary leader, thus taking the first step towards truly reforming itself.