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On the future of the Congress

Kanhaiya Kumar with Rahul Gandhi.   | Photo Credit: Twitter. @INC_Television

Kanhaiya Kumar’s joining, and the exit of Sushmita Dev, Jitin Prasad and Jyotiraditya Scindia, present an interesting context to interrogate the Indian National Congress’s relevance in politics today. Jignesh Mevani also spoke strongly in support of the Congress, but is yet to join the party formally. Some have celebrated the decision as an attempt to introduce fresh blood into the party. What these two young faces could bring to the party, or vice versa, is a bit too early to forecast. There is a fair chance that Mr. Kumar might do to the Bihar Congress what senior leaders like Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram did to the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu Congress respectively, which is not much other than self-aggrandisement

Any attempt to examine the future of the Congress or its relevance must begin with a caveat — the present party led by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi is not the same as the one that was once led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi transformed it into a dynastic party. It is a family firm, though the family has occasionally been generous enough to let non-family members lead its Government. But the party’s ideology or its internal democracy are at the mercy of the whims and fancies of the family.

 

The assumption that the present party is the legitimate heir of the one that brought freedom to India has been the potential source of numerous grand illusions. Once this fact is recognised, then all the illusions, including that the present Congress will be able to restore India’s secular polity, can easily be addressed. That does not, however, imply that the party cannot not play a significant role in checkmating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

At this juncture, the Congress continues to enjoy the advantage of being an alternative coalition to the BJP. It is the only national party that has legitimate regional character, represented by its social bases in a few major States. Nearly all regional parties are one State-based parties. What has further created a vacuum in the national pool of political leadership is that the so-called regional leaders have limited ambitions. They aspire only to be Chief Minister. Consider Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav, a politician who barely understands the value of being a former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister. If he had used the opportunities presented by the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests or the farmers’ movement, he would have been a contender for the prime ministerial post. Given the stunted growth of regional parties, the Congress remains unrivalled with respect to leading an alternative coalition.

What is the prospect of such a role in the 2024 parliamentary election? One answer is that it is too early to take a call. There is solid evidence of the Narendra Modi-led Government’s unpopularity. However, Mr. Modi, along with Home Minister Amit Shah and the BJP, have changed the ground rules of India’s electoral politics — that a mere defeat in an election does not foreclose the possibility of the formation of a BJP Government. This has been the case in Karnataka, Madya Pradesh and elsewhere. This rule remains valid for New Delhi as well. Hence, any attempt to prevent Mr. Modi from becoming the Prime Minister for a third term means that the BJP’s margin of defeat has to be significant in terms of seats.

 

But it is plausible to engineer a defeat and put the country back into coalition mode, which might shake up the Hindutva momentum, even if the BJP Government returns. To achieve this, the Congress has to make the election candidate-centric and win between 80 and 100 seats in 2024. The party will have to select competent candidates early and have a large heart in granting concessions to coalition partners.

There seems to be a small window to puncture the Hindutva balloon. But no one knows how the BJP is going to use the Ram Mandir, which is being built in Ayodhya, in its campaign. It is expected to be spectacular, which might neutralise issues that have undermined the BJP’s rule today, particularly in north India.

Shaikh Mujibur Rehman teaches at Jamia Millia Central University, New Delhi. He is the author of the upcoming book, Shikwa-e-Hind: The Political Future of Indian Muslims


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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 9:59:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/on-the-future-of-the-congress/article37154642.ece

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