At the Congress plenary, new president Rahul Gandhi renewed the battle cry against the BJP on a stage symbolically divested of the old. He framed the confrontation with the Narendra Modi-led party as a war between truth and lies, the Pandavas vs Kauravas. The Congress, the party president said, was like the Pandavas who “lost everything but fought for truth”. Of course, the truth as the Congress sees it, is worth fighting for and the plenary stage, pointedly emptied of the older leaders to signal that it was waiting for the party’s Gen Next to occupy it, was the apt place to spell it out.
But for the Congress in the year ahead of the next Lok Sabha polls, the problem lies elsewhere: It is not its commitment to the “truth” that requires fiery re-statement as much as its will and stomach to step up to the fight. It is not the need for internal organisational renewal — Gandhi spoke of breaking down the walls between party leaders and workers — that needs to be addressed as urgently as the party’s perceived lack of winnability against a formidable opponent. The Congress no longer has the luxury of, like the Pandavas, losing everything but the truth — if the past few years have shown anything, it is that in losing everything, it also stands to lose the truth.
The two are intertwined, yet it has almost seemed that, in the long years he spent as president-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi used “organisational reform” to evade the challenge of crafting the Congress’s charge against its opponent — it became an end in itself, a delaying tactic and ploy to obfuscate a reckoning with a landscape being upended by the Modi-Shah BJP. While the zeal to remake the party was well-intentioned, if strikingly unproductive, Rahul’s Congress consistently missed the opportunity of frontally taking on the political adversary, with the campaign in the Gujarat assembly election a notable exception. Meanwhile, the challenge to the BJP’s ascendance has come from smaller parties and regional players willing to think out of the box, take a risk — be it Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP in Delhi, the erstwhile JD(U)-RJD combine in Bihar, or, most recently, the bold SP-BSP experiment in bypolls in UP. Of course, it is easier for the smaller party to be more fleet-footed, but even so the Congress’s inertia has borne a close resemblance to a death wish.
This year, Rahul’s party will be directly facing off with the BJP in states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — the BJP has had long incumbencies in the last three. The Congress needs to show the will to win in these arenas. Else, all its (legitimate) railing against the BJP’s propaganda and projection of “fancy events”, and (illegitimate) attack on EVMs, will not be enough to put the party back together again.