The grand old party has lost most of its base in the last few years and became more left than the real left parties.
New Delhi: The clock ticks, and it does so unfazed by whatever else is happening around you. The year 2021 is now approaching an end. Like most, even the past 12 months have been significant politically and has been perhaps more significant for India's grand old Congress party.
For the first time, the appeal for a 'Congress-mukt' opposition polity in India has come this year, precisely a few weeks before, from a top-ranking opposition leader, Mamata Banerjee. Mamata Banerjee is a former Congress leader and former Union Minister who served under P V Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh. Her utterances, 'There is no UPA' in the presence of Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar, certainly left the BJP camp all smiling. Subsequently, several Trinamool leaders said the Congress is in a 'deep freezer'.
PM Narendra Modi's 'Congress-free' appeal was once ridiculed, but now seems to be on the horizon to a large extent. "Ho sakta hae…" is the new cautious refrain!
Now, what is common between Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul? Besides being family members of Nehru-Gandhi' political dynasty', another common thread is that both have taken charge of the country's oldest party. Sonia Gandhi is back as 'interim chief' and preparing the ground for Rahul Gandhi to take over the reins yet again. In 2017, Sonia passed on the party leadership to her son after the longest stint in the office for 19 years.
Around 2014, veteran Karan Singh had said, "Sonia Gandhi had come at a time as the party chief when people were leaving the Congress." Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of Congress on March 14, 1998, replacing the lacklustre Sitaram Kesri in an act dubbed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a 'palace coup'.
In 1999 Lok Sabha polls – aftermath the split by Sharad Pawar, P A Sangma and Tariq Anwar, the Congress strength had come down to 112. This was dubbed the 'poorest show in the last millennium's last Lok Sabha polls'. However, 15 years later, in 2014, the Congress tally in the Lok Sabha was again brought down to double digits under Sonia Gandhi's leadership. In 2019, under Rahul, Congress again could not get adequate numbers to claim the LoP position in Lok Sabha.
The same kind of fate was charted for the 136-year-old party in the states as it was also swept out of power in key states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. It managed some numbers and power for a while in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh but have lost both.
In Punjab, where Amarinder Singh held the forte for long, the former Chief Minister has been shown the door. It has 'zero' member strength in legislatures in states such as West Bengal, Tripura and Nagaland. In 2021, it should have 'won' Kerala on a five-year rotation basis, but failed to unseat the communists-who are again its best of friends in the national politics.
Rahul Gandhi is now a Kerala lawmaker, and in the run-up to the UP polls, the brother-sister duo is walking around Amethi, one time the family bastion now captured by the Union Minister Smriti Irani in 2019.
Where is Congress heading? Can Rahul Gandhi, alongside sister Priyanka Vadra, revive it? The easiest answer to both the questions could be identical – "no one knows".
"When even S C Jamir lost in a by-election in Nagaland, it proved that in a democracy, the 'element of delivery' works. It clearly showed how things can turn once people have an alternative to the Congress," says Naga political, N. Thomas Lotha, also a former Congress leader.
Old Congress hands, Sushmita Dev and Mukul Sangma also quit Congress and joined the Trinamool Congress. Over the last few years, Congress has lost its base across the country. The grand old party of India has also turned 'more Left' in more ways than one.
It started with the JNU protest in 2015, and Rahul Gandhi tried to emulate the language of the comrades. It needs a better formula as we step into another year ahead with many political actions.