These are people who subscribe to what the Congress
party says are its core values. They are perturbed by the unchallenged exercise of power by the Modi government, concerned about the spread of majoritarianism, dismayed by the alienation of minorities, worried about the threats to freedom of speech, and fearful that the basic character of the Indian nation may change beyond recognition if this government gets its way.
These are the same people who watched horrified as the United Progressive Alliance-II (UPA-II) hurtled from scam to scam while Manmohan Singh
sleepwalked through the last two years of his prime ministership creating the leadership vacuum that Narendra Modi rushed in to fill. Later, they watched appalled as such measures as demonetisation wrecked the India growth story and they wondered if we were getting the worst of all possible worlds: A ruthless exercise of untrammelled government power but without any increase in efficiency of delivery or prosperity.
Illustration: Binay Sinha
This constituency looked to the Congress to effectively oppose the regime. It was disappointed when the party did nothing and then blundered blindly into another electoral debacle. They waited, after that defeat, for the Congress to recognise where it had failed, to correct its mistakes, and to become an effective opposition again.
Instead the Congress party has lost itself in issues of personality and power. Rahul Gandhi
announced, after the election results, that he would step down as Congress president. This should have been the cue for a larger renewal. But that never happened: The party has just drifted along, rudderless, with no new internal elections being called and no significant introspection. It is not clear what Mr Gandhi’s status is now, but mysteriously he appears to still call the shots and is still the face of the Congress’s opposition to the Modi government despite having resigned as president.
Even as the central leadership in Delhi coasts along, personal battles have erupted in the states. The significance of Jyotiraditya Scindia
and Sachin Pilot’s revolts is that neither was framed in terms of ideology. Mr Scindia did not leave because he had differences over policies; he had not suddenly become a believer in Hindutva. He left because he felt he was being mistreated by Kamal Nath. Similarly, Mr Pilot has rebelled because he feels he is being sidelined and humiliated by Ashok Gehlot.
Like nearly everything else in the party these days, the current mess is not about ideas. It is about power and personal ambition. Early in his tenure as general secretary during UPA-I, Mr Gandhi spoke about the need to move away from dynasty and instituted a system of internal elections.
That spirit is now missing. There is very little talk of internal democracy now. Instead, the talk is of a bunch of entitled dynasts acting as though they have a right to rule. Whether it is Mr Gandhi’s position at the head of the party or the complaints about not getting top posts made by Mr Scindia or Mr Pilot, all of this is essentially about entitlement and personal advancement.
As for the Congress’s core values, its mission to fight for an idea of India, how seriously can one take this when so many members of what used to be called Rahul’s team are either negotiating with or have already joined the BJP? To be able to join or conspire with this extreme version of the BJP, the defecting dynasts could never ever have believed in any secular, liberal vision of India.
Even after last year’s electoral humiliation, many of the Congress supporters believed that the party could recover. It is unusual for any party to win a third general election, so there is the distinct possibility that anti-incumbency may fell the BJP in 2024. But that hope is now fading. Even if the BJP loses, it seems unlikely that the Congress will win. And so the disillusionment and anger among Congress supporters are growing.
There is increasingly a sense that the new generation of Congressmen are stubborn, spoilt children who insist on having everything their way — or they stamp their feet and walk away. Even Mr Gandhi is viewed as part of this trend. His post-defeat resignation is being seen as no more than a hissy fit. Otherwise, why is he still around? How can a party president resign and then never leave?
The vacuum that the Congress party is creating will be filled in all the states when it has no strong regional leadership. In Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has annexed the Congress vote. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena is moving to occupy the anti-BJP space. In Andhra, the YSR Congress is the only Congress that matters. In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has already made the Indian National Congress irrelevant.
Strangely, the Congress seems to have learned nothing from its defeats. At a time when its supporters worry that the idea of India is under attack, the party is still preoccupied with its own battles. It seems set to go into the future— and the next general election—with exactly the same leader and the same chaotic style that led it to two of the worst defeats in its history.
And that, as they say, is the classic definition of insanity: To do exactly the same thing again and again and still expect a different result.
The writer is a journalist and TV presenter