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Congress needs drastic overhaul

Congress needs drastic overhaul
Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP is on a roll after the spectacular results of the recent five state Assembly polls and is already looking ahead to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The results clearly indicate how well his election strategy has worked not only in the Hindi heartland but also in the tiny state of Goa in the south and the northeastern state of Manipur. By forming BJP governments in four of the five states, the BJP has shown its shrewd political strategy crafted by Modi and his deputy and the party chief Amit Shah in the recent Assembly polls. UP was indeed the biggest prize as it has given political dividends for the future.

Moreover, it was important how the BJP managed to form the governments in Goa and Manipur though it came second. It was a slip between the cup and the lip for the Congress, which had emerged as the number one party in both these states but caught napping while the BJP crack team managed the magic number with the non-Congress parties.
The BJP kitty has been growing steadily while the Congress has been losing one state after the other. The BJP-led NDA is ruling in Assam, Haryana, UP, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Nagaland, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Manipur, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra – covering 61.1 per cent of the population, leaving the Congress far behind ruling in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Bihar, Mizoram, and Puducherry. This shows that the country is slowly moving towards 'Congress-mukt Bharat' as avowed by Modi during his campaign.

So where does that leave the grand old party? No doubts that the Congress has the face-saving win in Punjab, although it lost miserably in Uttarakhand and UP. What should be worrying is that it was a slip between the cup and the lip and the BJP staged a coup in Goa and Manipur.

This brings us to the question about the Congress party's future. The 132-year-old Congress is facing an existential crisis with mounting challenges from the BJP and regional parties. Under the present scenario when the BJP has become a pan-national party, overtaking the Congress, which at once had a pre-eminent position, the Congress has to think of how to counter the BJP threat. The first thing is to pull up its socks and set the house in order before the next year's Assembly polls in eight states, including Gujarat and Karnataka later this year, and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress is ruling in Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Meghalaya and in these states, the two parties are in a direct fight.

Secondly, there is confusion about the leadership as there are two power centres. It is under speculation for the past two years that vice president Rahul Gandhi would be elevated, and his mother and the president Sonia Gandhi would become the mentor. This confusion about the leadership issue should be settled quickly so that Rahul Gandhi leads the party from the front, although he has been the main decision maker on all matters even now.

The third is building up of the organisation, which is almost non-existent. The party needs to build up the structure. The Gandhis have not paid much attention to this aspect while the other parties like the BJP have a well-knit organisation. Moreover, workers have been demoralised by the consecutive defeats and decline of the party.

Fourthly, the Congress needs to organise a conclave as it did in Pachmarhi or Shimla earlier so that the party leaders could thrash out the issues and also come up with future direction.
For instance, it was during the Shimla conclave that Sonia Gandhi made the decision to go for a coalition, which paid dividends in the 2004 polls when UPA came to power. The party workers and leaders should feel wanted and participate in the strategy sessions, particularly those experienced senior leaders who feel dumped as of now. In the recent elections, most of them had sat at home feeling unwanted. They are disenchanted with the leadership and feel that the Gandhis are in the clutches of a few outsiders who would not let them see the reality. The grand old party should not only look back but also look ahead to see how to counter the saffron surge. The party seniors also want to ensure the party changed according to the present day demands and project a new Congress.

Fifthly, the recent Punjab poll results have proved that the Congress needs to develop strong leaders at the state level. It was because of Captain Amarinder Singh that the Congress won an impressive victory in Punjab. What is lacking in the Congress is the second line of leadership both at the national as well as the state level. Prime Minister Nehru was a strong leader, but he did not curb the influence of leaders like BC Roy, C Rajagopalachary, and K Kamaraj, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, GB Pant, and others. It was Indira Gandhi who demolished state leaders by nominating lightweights. It is not as if the Congress lacks talent.

While the present results show that the Congress is on the decline but not finished, it is imperative that it should start work for the next Assembly polls in 2018 and Lok Sabha elections in 2019. No democracy can be vibrant without a strong opposition. Even now it is not too late as the party should mobilise the opposition to take on the BJP or else the Modi chariot will continue uninterrupted.
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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