The Left wins and loses, the Right wins and loses, regional parties win and win, the Congress loses, loses, loses, and loses. Ah, sorry, also wins—Puducherry, that is! So the grand old party has a reason to celebrate, as it had early this week, when it won a handful of seats in the by-polls for Municipal Corporation of Delhi. More than the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first-ever government in Assam and Mamata Banerjee’s clean sweep in West Bengal despite huge scams, the biggest takeaway from the five Assembly elections is the steady decline of the Congress. The second takeaway is that while the BJP’s desire of making India Congress-mukt is likely to be fulfilled, other parties are making a bigger contribution to that end.
The results were not very surprising; all the reports and exit polls had indicated similar results. The reactions to this setback to the party will also be predictable; Congress leaders will fall over each other to say that the responsibility is collective; Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, party spokespersons would say, should not be blamed. But the truth, spoken or not spoken, remains the truth; and the truth is that the top leadership cannot escape the responsibility, howsoever skilful the sophistry may be to keep it away from the line of fire.
The problem with Congress leaders is their excessive reliance on the Dynasty; it is conventional wisdom in the GOP and political commentators that the Gandhis are the only glue that can keep the party together. This is a myth that has been perpetuated unnecessarily, perhaps by vested interests. Between 1991, when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, and 1998, when Sonia Gandhi took the reins in her hands, heavens did not fall, either for the nation or the party. It was in this period that India got the best prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, who freed the economy, to a large extent, from the socialist controls. Nor did the Congress lose control: for five years, it was the ruling party; and for two years, it supported the government from outside.
Another point to be noted here is that filial succession is never guaranteed to be successful. Not every son of a corporate tycoon becomes a business magnate; not every child of a film star becomes equally famous. Whatever happened to the sons of Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar, Kishore Kumar, and Rajendra Kumar?
Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi succeeded primarily because the inherited might of the Congress and the smallness and insignificance of the Opposition. Sonia’s success can also be attributed partly to the big size of the GOP. Besides, she was intelligent enough to recognize that socialism and Muslim appeasement had a huge constituency among Congress leaders and intellectuals. Many GOP leaders hate Narasimha Rao from the core of their heart because of his sin of giving up an array of controls, which were used for rent-seeking. Further, Sonia is gifted with a Machiavellian mind.
Rahul, on the other hand, has to perform against the backdrop of an entirely different backdrop—a much stronger, motivated BJP, entrenched satraps, and a much weaker Congress. Besides, he doesn’t seem to have any of the gifts his mother is endowed with.
However, it is not that all the losses of the Congress are the BJP’s gains. It is yet to dislodge a strong non-Congress party. This is primarily because of the non-performance of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. Amit Shah, his cronies, and friendly commentators may claim that the Delhi and Bihar debacles have been undone, but it is not correct.
Nobody has noticed that the saffron party has performed badly in Tamil Nadu. Its voting percentage has actually come down from 5 per cent in 2014 to 2.8 per cent in the state. It had won a Lok Sabha seat two years ago; it has failed to get even a single Assembly seat in this poll. This is not surprising given the incompetence of the in-charge of the state, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, and the clueless party leadership in the state.
In short, the recent setback to the Congress should not lull the BJP into complacency. The Congress is losing consistently, but the BJP’s victories are not commensurate with the GOP’s losses.