Nobody killed the Congress
By: Rajeev Sharma
The jury met in New Delhi on May 19. Its single-point objective was to investigate the bloodbath caused by the just-concluded Indian elections in the Indian National Congress. The jury comprised of the two Gandhis: Sonia and her son Rahul, the president and the vice president respectively of the Congress party.
Their job was to identify reasons and culprits for the worst-ever electoral performance of the Congress party in its history of 129 years. And the jury decided thus: Nobody killed the Congress party.
But yes indeed the Congress party was killed. Nay, it was decimated and the archrival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made mincemeat of it. The party won just 44 seats out of 543 Lok Sabha seats; or nearly one-third of the party’s earlier worst-ever electoral performance of coming up with just 114 seats in the 1999 elections; or far less than the number of seats won by the next biggest parties in the 16th Lok Sabha — the AIADMK (37 seats) and the Trinamool Congress (34).
As many as 178 Congress candidates lost their deposit in this election. Nothing conveys the people’s seething anger against the party that ruled India for last one decade better than this cold statistic. Whoever allied with the Congress was routed. See the fate of Congress pre-poll allies like Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which mustered only six and four seats respectively.
Even those parties, which had supported the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government from outside were decimated. Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are classic examples of this. The former could manage just five seats (a loss of 18 seats over its previous tally) while the latter failed to open its account, a loss of 21 seats over the last time.
In contrast, the BJP acquired a Midas touch this time around and whichever party it forged pre-poll alliance with performed well above expectations. The two prime examples are Shiv Sena and Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which got 18 and 16 seats respectively, gaining seven and 10 seats respectively over their tally of 2009.
And yet no heads rolled in the Congress party. Nobody raised a finger at the Gandhis, though Sonia and Rahul “offered” to resign. It was a familiar, well-choreographed drama, which had its expected denouement in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) overwhelmingly rejecting the Gandhis’ resignation offers.
Instead the party blamed advertisement agency for its electoral debacle. What an irony! When the product fails, you blame the advertising! But then that is how the political system in India is. Dynasty is not the bane of the Congress party only. Look at SP. Heads rolled in that party but nothing happened to the Yadavs — father Mulayam Singh and son Akhilesh, who personally led the election campaign.
BSP leader Mayawati, though she is single and cannot be accused of running a dynasty, continues to rule the roost within her party. In fact, not just the Congress but invariably all regional parties are one individual show.
The problem with the Congress is that it has always been led by a Gandhi family member, except for some brief intervals like the period of Sitaram Kesri when the party was not in power at the center anyway.
Interestingly, the two prime ministers in the Congress rule since Rajiv Gandhi were both outsiders and did not belong to the Gandhi family — P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. Rao completed his full term. Singh went a step further and completed two full consecutive tenures; a feat accomplished only by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, father of Indira Gandhi and grandfather of Rajiv Gandhi. And yet it is common knowledge that during the tenures of Rao and Singh, it was Sonia Gandhi who was the super prime minister and both these prime ministers remained under her thumb.
Forget about the fate of the Congress party’s pre-poll allies like NCP and RJD and parties like SP and BSP which supported the Congress from outside. Even a political party like the Janata Dal (United), whose chief minister in Bihar Nitish Kumar broke with the BJP over the prime ministerial candidature of Narendra Modi, is a big loser.
JD (U) could get just two seats, a loss of 18 seats from the 2009 tally. So much so that Nitish Kumar became the first immediate casualty of the election results and he had to resign. Kumar’s case is a demonstration of the Modi effect in this election from which only three regional satraps and chief ministers J. Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu), Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) and Navin Patnaik (Odisha) not only emerged unscathed but also added to their previous tally significantly. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK got 37 seats, a gain of 28 seats from last time while Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal got 34 and 20 seats respectively, registering a handsome gain of 15 and six seats respectively.
Like Mayawati, Nitish Kumar too finds himself in political wilderness.
The writer is a New Delhi-based columnist and political commentator who tweets @Kishkindha.