It’s more than three months since voters decisively rejected the Congress in the general election. Since then, by all accounts, the party has been debating whether Rahul Gandhi ought to be blamed for the party’s worst performance ever. His aides have sought to deflect the spotlight on the Congress vice president by talking of a collective failure. An inner-party probe led by A.K. Antony is reported to have absolved the Gandhi family of any responsibility in the poll disaster. Of course, the Congress needs to analyse what went wrong in the election, and set its house in order. But could this please be done without more public displays of angst? It is wearying to hear Congressmen’s endless lament about the election they lost even as the voters have moved on.
The Congress has done well in assembly bypolls since the general election, especially in Uttarakhand, Karnataka and even Madhya Pradesh. Though bypoll results rarely portend a larger statewide or nationwide trend, these favourable outcomes would indicate signs of life in the party in these states. State leaders led the campaign while the Gandhis stayed at home. There is, perhaps, even a lesson in the bypolls for the Congress. Its first family may well be the glue that holds the party together, but a robust organisation and capable grassroots leaders are necessary to win elections. In its heyday, in the early decades after Independence, the Congress had a strong regional leadership whose relationship with the central leadership was often based on mutual respect. If it wishes for a revival at the national level, the Congress needs to drastically rework the terms of engagement between its state leaders and the high command.
The Congress must also get its act together in Parliament and play the role of the opposition with greater purposefulness and conviction. It may be savagely diminished in numerical terms but that should be even more reason to work out ways to amplify its concerns in the House and strategise in order to hold the government to account. Party MPs must make their mark in parliamentary standing committees. Rahul Gandhi could enhance his leadership credentials by becoming more involved and outspoken in Parliament. The move to form a shadow Twitter cabinet to track important ministries is a step in the right direction. Being a responsible opposition would help the Congress, while keeping the Modi government on its toes.