It is rare to witness the kind of sustaining popularity among the electorate that the present ruling dispensation is enjoying. While there are multiple factors for it, the stagnancy of the Indian political scenario since 2014 couldn’t have been possible without the incompetency of the Opposition.
The Congress has witnessed a steady and consistent decline since the last three decades. According to data from the Trivedi Centre for Political Data at Ashoka University, Congress had been winning over 50% of seats it contested till 1984 (with the exception of the election after Emergency). In 2004, it won 35% of seats it contested while the figure relatively improved in 2009 (47%). In 2014, it won only 9% of seats it contested while in 2019 that figure loomed at 12%.
The cause of such low figures cannot simply be due to the popularity of the BJP. It must be seen as a failure of the Congress leadership. The Gandhis have historically been an asset to the Congress. They served as a uniting factor for the party organization while representing a rich, almost royal legacy for the Indian populace. This is not the case now.
Since the embarrassing defeat of 2014, a clear voice of dissent seems to be emerging from many prominent senior Congress leaders. Informally known as the G-18, these leaders have credibly accused the party’s leadership of being inaccessible and called for organizational overhaul, accountability and election. It is hard not to sympathize. The highest executive committee of the Congress i.e. the Congress Working Committee is supposed to be elected by the electoral college of Pradesh Congress Committee delegates at the block-level. Nevertheless, the Congress has not held any elections since the last 20 years. Instead, Sonia Gandhi has been nominating CWC members on her own occasionally as and when she deems fit.
This is why the recent offer from the Gandhis to leave the reign of power in Congress appears insincere at best and theatrical at worst. It is inconceivable that a group of mostly unelectable leaders nominated by the Gandhis will want them to go.
Congress in its present form not only tolerates but rewards mediocrity and failures. For instance, the leadership deputed Ajay Maken to oversee the Punjab election while Jairam Ramesh was entrusted with similar responsibilities in Manipur. The party lost both these states miserably. Yet, the same leaders were appointed again to suggest changes and assess the reasons for the loss after election. The Gandhi acolytes, such as Randeep Singh Surjewala, Maken and Avinash Pandey, continue to play prominent role in decision-making despite their terrible track record.
This problem stems from the top. Far from resigning from his post of Vice-President after the 2014 debacle, Rahul Gandhi was made the President in 2017. Even as an MP, RG has been an utter failure. In his first term as MP, his attendance in Lok Sabha was 33% below national average. He presented no private member bills and asked no questions. His attendance and performance further declined in his second and third term. By all measurable standards, Rahul Gandhi has been a below average MP and a liability to the Congress as a leader.
Though there was some excitement initially after Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra was made in-charge of the UP election, she led the party to garner even fewer seats than last election.
The BJP's emphasis on the Prime Minister’s humble origins as “tea-seller” is in sharp contrast with the perception of Gandhis as elitist dynasts. With time, people’s perception of dynasts, especially incompetent ones, have turned from admiration to hostility.
Despite the recent success of AAP in Punjab, Congress is still India’s second largest national party. The thought of an alternative Opposition party emerging is still too far in the future. The Congress party is the only party that has the machinery and experience it requires to take on the BJP. Yet, the Gandhis represent elitism, corruption and privilege to “New India”. Opposition WITHOUT a credible alternative, vision and a better narrative is pretty much useless. The Gandhis have ensured the stagnancy of Indian political scenario by refusing to make way for a strong alternative leader to take over the reins of Congress. In doing so, they have ironically become Congress’ biggest liability and BJP’s biggest asset.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)