This is the story an average observer of politics should be thinking about. Mr Ghulam Nabi Aazad has said that if an elected President was not put in place, the Congress would sit in opposition for 50 years. He has now been dropped as General Secretary. Jai Mrug comments on the crisis before the party.
It was early 1998, and the most prominent quote regarding the then Congress President reported in the newspapers was “Na khata na bahi, jo kesri kahe wo sahi” . Sitaram Kesri was the choice of the outgoing President PV Narsimha Rao, for the post of Party President. A seemingly grounded politician from Bihar, the Congress was actually stumped by the directionless of the party. A witty Pramod Mahajan commented that time, that every time Kesri shows up on TV, the Congress loses 1000 votes. The Congressmen then got together, dethroned Mr. Kesri, almost in the midst of the 1998 election, and crowned Mrs. Gandhi has Congress President.
Cut to today. The Congress has come full perfect half circle, 180 degrees. Today there is clamour, to elect a Congress President, and preferably a non Gandhi. Its just about twenty years in which the Congress has completely changed its outlook. This is the story an average observer of politics should be thinking about. Mr Ghulam Nabi Aazad has said that if an elected President was not put in place, the Congress would sit in opposition for 50 years. He has now been dropped as General Secretary. But the Congress has often bounced back to power. So what has changed now for the Congress, so much so that it seeks a revamp of the very authority that it went to during its 1998 crisis.
Mr Ghulam Nabi Aazad has said that if an elected President was not put in place, the Congress would sit in opposition for 50 years.
The Indian National Congress has survived many a setback. The key is what was it then, that gave them the confidence to bounce back. In earlier cases the parties opposed to the Indian National Congress blundered strategically enough to provide space enough for the Congress. 1979, and 1991 were disillusionment’s with anti Congress formations, and 2004 the over confidence of the BJP. In a way right through till 1998, it was assumed that an Opposition government would be inherently unstable, and thus give the Congress a Psychological Advantage from day 1 of being in the opposition. It took almost two decades for this shibboleth to go. In 1998, it was very clear that the fall of the UF government would benefit the Vajpayee led BJP, and not the Congress. In a way for the first time, the idiom of a stable government was challenged.
Come 2004 the Congress had learnt from the smart NDA experience of the BJP. The UPA was built before the election. That turned out to be a major plus for the Congress, a strong UPA. There was no specific wave against the NDA, as well as there was no huge agitation launched by the Congress. There was just coordination with all opposition parties. The Congress did not need to put many feet on the ground as well as there was no special need for the leadership to be imaginative. It was also lucky enough to have its tally stride by the BJP, to become the single largest party. The Congress won 145 seats, while the BJP won 138 seats. The confidence of the Congress in its resilience was restored.
Again in 2009, every major state had a party that split the opposition vote. In Maharashtra, you had Raj Thakrey, Chiranjeevi in Andhra and Telangana, Vijaykanth in Tamil Nadu, and the BJP at its worst in Uttar Pradesh. In a way the outcome was not a product of massive ground mobilization or the need for an imaginative narrative. It was more like fate accomplish. The Congress confidence was bolstered further. Victory was an outcome of electoral landscape or configuration, not necessarily because of mobilization or an imaginative narrative or leadership.
Today actually a two front format or even one party one front format is stabilizing, Both the parties have run stable coalition governments, and therefore much more imagination is needed to rally voters. Non Congress governments at the center do not collapse by default, thus unseating them needs a large mobilization and narrative.
Now these were not per requisites the last time, Congress made it back to the Treasury benches from the opposition. It is thus not trained to respond to such a situation, and that is the real problem with the Congress party. It does not have training or a fall back mechanism of what to do, when in Opposition. Mr. Rahul Gandhi, could have just been incidental to the entire process.
(Jai Mrug is political commentator and director VMR India )