Indian National Congress seems to be a sinking ship though it is still premature to sing the dirge for it. A resounding defeat in the Lok Sabha elections would have dented the confidence levels of the senior leadership, cut down the sound bytes and sapped the morale of the rank file. It should have happened to any party, national or regional, though the incredible complacency of the Congress during UPA II has led it to licking its wounds now. If the recent indications are a pointer - growing dissensions within the ranks in States, disengagement of the seniors and disorientation - it is that unless the old party reinvented itself it will be out in the cold. And Rahul Gandhi is in a time warp which in the context of reinvention will make it worse. Sonia Gandhi is in the evening of life, bereft of directional ideas and plagued by the nagging worry that the party is slipping out of her control.
It looked as if in 2014 LS polls the party conceded the match even before a ball was bowled. One, the various scams got stuck with the party’s spokespersons sounding inane and mediocre in their defense. Manmohan Singh never padded up, as if he knew it was a lost cause. In the closing years of UPA inflation was uncomfortably high, growth rate pegged at over 4 per cent, prices of essentials shooting up, but the colossal losses estimated in coal block allocations, 2G and CWG put the warts of corruption on its face. The grand old party had nowhere to hide from the widespread disillusionment and wrath that swept the BJP on the wave of change. Their laconic campaign was doomed from the start, what with Sonia’s rehearsed speeches and Rahul’s garbled rhetoric blowing over disinterested crowds. It was a lameduck exercise compared to the BJP’s high voltage campaign beefed up by the misdoings of the UPA. A comic interlude was Priyanka Gandhi taking jibes at Narendra Modi as part of her campaign for her brother in Amethi. It was a delicious irony that the Congress won only two seats in the heartland of Uttar Pradesh which mother-son duo had nurtured for decades.
Since then only the floodgates of agony have opened for the INC. Even in the recent Assembly polls the spectre of defeat was so stark that Sonia and Rahul packed off after addressing only six rallies in Maharashtra and never ventured near Haryana. The tale in Haryana had a Robert Vadra ring to it and pepped up the anti-incumbency sentiment. But the party appeared to have lost the plot and its steam well before the vote was cast. The combined vote share of the NCP and Congress was better than Shiv Sena which was another ironic broadside at the breakup of the alliance. As the adage goes that the problems always come in threes the party leadership seems to be entangled in tactical blunders, poor sense of the ground reality and confusion.
Its situation in the States was even more worrying for the leadership because of factionalism and lack of directions in post-election scene. Rahul Gandhi, even before the elections, was lost in vague concepts of women empowerment, building up the Youth Congress when the need was to grapple with the immediate challenge of the BJP armed with a time-consistent manifesto. His heart was in the right place but the tide left him way behind. The BJP played the cards well picking on the same issues and others. Now the Congress is unsurprisingly faced with rebellion in Tamil Nadu with the factions contributing to a possible split in Congress vote bank (supposed to be 10 per cent which came to down 4 p.c plus in LS poll) when the state goes in for Assembly poll. The Congress has to play second fiddle in any alliance unless it comes out with coherent issue-based localized policy framework.
Reinvention on what basis? A question Rahul has to handle beyond coming out with clichéd statements of unity or persisting with high command culture. The Prime Minister Modi comes out with a new initiative of adopting Jayapur village as an MP of Varanasi setting a benchmark for the MPs to follow suit. His accent on community development was equally timely. Is Rahul listening?