By Michelle Cherian
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
“To the victor belong the spoils”, and indeed it was an economically-spoiled economy that was handed over to the victorious Bharatiya Janata Party this National Election, held in 2014. The losers of this raging electoral battle, The Congress suffered a crushing defeat, a defeat that might prove irredeemable for some time. The virtual decimation of the Congress, or atleast it may seem so since they could claim only 44 Lok Sabha seats on their own compared to the BJP’s 282, was a feat it achieved mainly because of its own dedicated efforts. Their massive, inexplicable fall came as a jaw-dropping shocker to many, but when it comes to hard-core facts and reasons, their fall does not seem shocking or inexplicable anymore.
There are many reasons which led to The Congress’ defeat and its best to go over them one by one. Firstly, let’s face it; the UPA government did have achievements to its credit like MNREGA and RTE, but its failures largely outweigh its achievements. Both the governments, UPA-1 and UPA-2 suffered from the problem of dual authority; proved them ineffective to combat issues like inflation and stagnating economic growth, were mired in controversies and scams that did little to reverse their policy paralysis.
Given Rajiv Gandhi’s untimely death, the senior leaders of the Congress asked (which is a euphemism for begging in this scenario) Sonia Gandhi to lead the party and she was suddenly plunged head-long into Indian politics in 1999. Despite the cruel anti-Indian popular wave she was subjected to, she did justice to the faith that the party reposed in her by leading the party to power in 2004. Her slogan, “Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath”, cut across caste barriers and did wonders to refurbish the party’s lost sheen. It even paid her dividends in 2009.
However, this time round, she decided to take a backseat and left the reigns to her son, and Modi’s ‘shehzada’, Rahul Gandhi. Did it help? The election results speak for themselves. Rahul Gandhi has consistently shown that he is incapable of the responsibility entrusted to him. Sonia Gandhi’s main agenda behind elevating her son to the post of Vice-president, campaign manager and the undeclared prime-ministerial candidate was probably to present a fresh change to the battered and untenable Dr.Manmohan Singh, to show him in stark contrast to the allegedly polarising personality of Mr. Modi and to resurrect him as the voice of the youth. However, Rahul Gandhi failed to strike a chord with the youth, failed to inspire the confidence among his own party members and the general public; he just failed miserably on several counts. There was a gap between his words and actions. He ridiculed the Cabinet’s decision to release an ordinance to protect convicted law-makers, but was easily persuaded to forge an electoral tie-up with RJD chief, Lalu Prasad Yadav who has cases filed against him. He spoke of anti-graft laws and women empowerment but remained aloof when Anna Hazare clamoured for the Lok Pal bill and thousands of youngsters took to the streets to protest against the rape of the paramedic, he hopes for ‘change’ and ‘democratisation’ of the party structures but these seem only big words stuffed into a mishandled puppet, which became pretty evident from his maiden interview.
The newspaper headlines made it pretty hard to ignore the innumerable scams the UPA government has been involved in- 2G, Coal, Commonwealth Games and many more. The ministers behaved like despots of a banana republic, engaging in a bacchanalian orgy of corruption, blatantly underestimating the fact that they are elected representatives meant to be accountable to the people. The jaded Indian is used to the corrupt Indian system he/she faces daily, but the millions of rupees that were siphoned away by means of these scams and the subsequent attempts to thwart investigation aroused public anger, which could be cited as another of the many reasons for the Congress decadence.
The dual authority or the diarchical structure of the Congress with Sonia Gandhi being the party leader and Dr.Manmohan Singh being the prime-minister was a flawed decision, right from the start. The party president, though ideally not supposed to, interfered with the cabinet decisions, at first politely and then, overtly. The instance when the Neyveli Lignite Corporation was to be disinvested in 2006, as per a cabinet decision was stalled because the Left, and most surprisingly, the Congress party president played a major role in opposing this decision. Later in 2008, the Manmohan Singh cabinet, in a bid to re-assert its position, decided upon signing the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, which it was able to go ahead with primarily because of Sonia Gandhi’s approval and SP’s support. The Left had deserted the government. Sonia Gandhi has been playing the role of an uncrowned queen, and this has led to internal party disturbances, hurt prides and overall mismanagement and disorder.
There are other latent factors that have been working against the Congress such as investing the younger party workers with a great deal of authority; in fact, more authority than they could handle, an act that did not go well with the old guard who had supported Sonia Gandhi in her victories of 2004 and 2009. They felt ignored and had every reason to, because with Rahul Gandhi in-charge; their ideas and resolutions were not paid heed to. Newbies like Sachin Pilot and Arun Yadav, who were appointed state unit chiefs in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh could not live up to the expectations. Moreover, state assembly seats were thought of being reassigned, but such thoughts were prevailed upon by external pressure. Senior leaders believe that, had Mrs. Gandhi kept her hold intact and re-assigned seats in state assemblies, the damage could have been contained. Another latent factor is that Congress state leaders do not wield the same level of power that BJP leaders do and because of inflexibility in decision-making, they fared less than well while BJP state leaders like Vasundhra Raje in Rajasthan and Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh took their states and consequently the BJP to power at the centre.
All in all, the Congress has been sawing the branch it has been sitting on. It will take the party a mammoth effort to re-invent itself and prove itself worthy of the confidence of the Indian people. This will take deep introspection and an over-haul of the party structure, ideology and functioning. But it can start by mulling over the question, “why did we fall?” a question it doesn’t seem to have asked itself yet for fear of the emergence of some rather uncomfortable answers.
Michelle is a student of Economics at St.Stephen’s College, Delhi. She is an ardent writer and takes pleasure in writing on various topical issues such as Economics, politics and world affairs. Development Economics is her region of interest and being an idealist as well as a realist, is convinced that through dedication, hard work and foresight, she can help India achieve great highs, economically and otherwise. Her greatest strength is that she believes in herself and she ascribes her achievements to her family and friends.