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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 11, March 16, 2024

Congress Party and the upcoming Lok Sabha polls | P. S. Jayaramu

Friday 15 March 2024

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March 11, 2024

Lot of writing is taking place in the media in addition to television debates about the Congress Party and the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The mainstream television channels, including some anchors, are asserting, (though they are expected to be professionally neutral) in expressing their opinion, much less guide the debate that 2024 is a done deal and that it is only a question of whether the BJP will reach the magic figure of 370 seats and the NDA, which is expanding in numbers, will cross 400. The media is, in that sense, parroting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s repeated statements of his coming back to power: ‘Ab ki baar, 400 paar’. In the entire orchestrated debate and the environment, (the Hindi word ’mahole’ seems a better expression) an impression is being assiduously created that the Congress Party, will face a disastrous defeat and that the INDI alliance will be a failure. Be that as it may, it is imperative to take a dispassionate view of how the Congress, which is the main opposition party, will fare at the hustling.

Let me first take a quick look at the Congress Party’s position. After two successive defeats in 2014 and 2019, the Party is undoubtedly on a steep decline and is in a weak position in so far as the elections are concerned on several counts. It is worth analysing the factors which are unfavourable to the Party. Firstly, the Congress is not very clear about its ideological commitment. The ideology which shaped the Party during the Nehru-Indira phase, that of commitment to Liberalism and Socialism respectively has undergone dilution.No doubt, it started under P V Narasimha Rao, who inaugurated the shift to market-oriented policy pursuits in the wake of the dawn of the Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation ( LPG) Rao was the high priest of liberalisation and he trend was carried forward by his successors, notably Dr. Manmohan Singh. Thus in a manner of speaking, the Party witnessed a paradigm shift in terms of its ideological orientation. But, what is striking is that the liberalisation-privatisation policy shift was hijacked by the BJP and the Vajpayee-led NDA regime earlier and more pronounced by Narendra Modi during his first and second term. Thus, with its ideology and the concomitant policy solutions for the nation’s development successfully projected by the Modi-led BJP government within the liberalisation-privatisation framework, Congress Party had to look for a reorientation of its commitment, which is being addressed by Rahul Gandhi by his pronounced emphasis on the pro-poor and anti-industry ( read as opposition to Adani in particular to Adani) statements. Rahul thinks that is the only viable way in which the Party can stage a comeback.

Of course, Rahul Gandhi has added to it the need to oppose BJP’s Hindutva politics and the need to revert to the Constitutional goals, enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution. The mainstream media and sections of the academia, who have become votaries of the Modi’s Hindutva-welfare politics, are projecting it in a mission mode. In the process, they fail to notice the shift in Congress’s ideological-cum-policy shift as is being articulated by the Party President Mallikarjun Kharge and Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. But, unfortunately, such ideas do not seem to resonate with the larger Indian electorate, especially the youth. If the Congress fails in the upcoming elections to make a substantial impact, the explanation for it’s defeat will have to be located to a great extent in the Party’s inability to convince the electorate about its ideological-cum-policy shift. At the same time, the soft Hindutva line, which some of the leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, have been adopting to navigate the compulsions of electoral politics may turn out to be either a boon or a bane for the Party.

The second most crucial challenge which will affect the Party’s fortunes in the elections will be the low morale of the Party workers, impacted as it is by the dessertions of the Party by some of the senior leaders across States. Some of them have been longtime members of Lok Sabha who have joined BJP. A couple of them have frankly admitted that their decision to join the BJP is influenced by the workers, who are being swayed by the BJP to its fold. They also complain that they are unable to satisfy the aspirations of the voters in their constituencies.

Thirdly, the Party is faced by an acute shortage of financial resources. With the Party being in power only in three States, ( Himachal Pradesh’s government may or may not last for long), the capacity of the Party brass to raise resources is severely constrained. Compared to the vast resources of the BJP, there’s is no level-playing field. This is also a point which has emerged going by the donations received by the BJP, through electoral bonds. It is a matter of great satisfaction that the Supreme Court has dismissed the SBI’s petition seeking an extension of time to disclose details associated with the infamous electoral bonds. State funding of elections is the only way of ensuring the fairness of our electoral democracy.

Fourthly, the failure of the Congress Party to effectively articulate both a narrative and a vision for the nation, in view of the myriad problems faced by the people due to unemployment, price rise, etc, will determine where it stands vis-a-vis the voters. (In contrast, Modi keeps coming up with visions, irrespective of whether they will be realised or not). Both Rahul Gandhi a d his unelectable advisers need to address these issues urgently. Relevant narratives and a pragmatic vision, NOT Modi baiting, alone will help the Party in attracting the voters to its side. The Party has already lost time on this front. Will the much-needed change come about is the million-dollar question.

Finally, the Congress leadership should realise that the failure of seat adjustments with powerful regional Parties need not be bemoaned . The electoral gains of INDIA bloc regional Parties will very much be a victory of the alliance as the ultimate goal is to counter the BJP’s challenge. Thus, It is worth watching how the Congress Party gears itself to face the challenges in the days to come.

(Author Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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