The first response from Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar walking out of the Mahagathbandhan was that “we knew this for three or four months that this planning is on”. Since the Bihar grand alliance was the template the Congress had banked on to checkmate the BJP elsewhere, what did Rahul do to avert its break-up? What did he do those four months? In Gujarat, where Assembly elections are to be held this year, six MLAs, including the party’s chief whip in the assembly, have quit the Congress in a span of 24 hours. This too, perhaps, was expected since they are the followers of Shankersinh Vaghela, who left the party some days ago. The Congress, of course, denounces the exits as expected and rationalises them as good riddance. However, the deserters pin the blame on the Congress leadership’s inaction and indecisiveness for their decision to explore other platforms.
Of course, there are social and political forces that make the going difficult for any opposition party. The popularity — and it’s growing — of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; the BJP’s electoral success after success; a young impatient electorate not burdened by history; the political dividend of divisiveness — the list could go on. But that’s no excuse. True, the pursuit of power surely influenced politicians to jump ship but, clearly, implicit in their indictment is a lack of confidence in the leadership’s ability. As the pole of national opposition, the Congress leadership is expected to pivot anti-government forces and protect the ranks. However, since its debilitating defeat in 2014, it has resembled a ship without a captain, now with leaks springing up at regular intervals. Organisation and leadership are crucial to a party’s electoral fortunes. The Congress today lacks both. Party leaders, unable or unwilling to criticise the Gandhi family, pretend that successive defeats are part of the political cycle and patience is enough to ride out the storm. In private, they do confess that national politics has changed since 2014, the BJP’s aggressive onward march needs a new strategy and the Congress top leadership is unable to grasp this. Perhaps, and this may be unpalatable to the Bosses, the leadership has neither the interest nor intellect or resolve that’s needed for such a challenging task. The stasis in the party is born out of this reluctance to recognise the change and adapt.
The A.K. Antony panel that looked into the 2014 defeat was to have pointed out how and why the Congress lost the plot. The reluctance of the party to hold the leadership, primarily the Gandhi family, accountable meant the report was shelved. The Congress VP promised to rid the party of nepotism by holding organisational polls. How can he when the leadership, including himself, is outside the pale of scrutiny? The crisis facing the Congress is its own making — it has to decide when will it start asking questions of its leadership.