There were rumours for the past month that the Goa Congress would split and its MLAs would join the BJP. However, the Congress top brass stayed busy with the Bharat Jodo Yatra under the leadership of former party president Rahul Gandhi. Goa’s wipeout of the Congress party is another clear example that Rahul Gandhi does not have a political strategy connected to ground reality.
The repeated displays of the Congress party and the Gandhi family’s lack of strategy, ability, interest, and passion are infuriating the opposition leaders.
There is no question that the Congress party’s initiative to plan and carry out a “padayatra” of more than 3,500 km is commendable. It is also crucial to recognise that the Congress is the only other political party in India at the moment that is capable of organising such a sizable padayatra that spans several states, aside from the Bharatiya Janata Party. The initiative is admirable, but there are concerns about its strategic errors, objectives, and results.
When the Goa assembly elections were held this year, the small coastal state turned into a hub of opposition politics. The Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Shiv Sena, NCP, and many other parties participated in the game. Due to the Congress’s deteriorating condition, the Trinamool Congress, led by Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal, and the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party, entered the state. Mamata Banerjee just parachuted into Goa just three months before the elections. But AAP has maintained its position.
The contest throughout this election was for second place in the state. The TMC lost all of its seats, AAP gained two, and Congress moved up to second place. The key election pitch of all the non-BJP and non-Congress political parties was that they wanted to become an alternative to the Congress.
Now, eight of the Congress’s twelve MLAs have joined the BJP. The party’s inability to restrain its leaders is evident. Nobody even noticed that the party’s senior leaders attempted to negotiate or deal with the situation.
These days, the opposition leaders are also unsure of the purpose of the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. The desperate efforts of the Congress to relaunch Rahul Gandhi just before the presidential election of the grand old party undoubtedly raised doubts about the true objectives. The BJP’s rivals feel the Congress must focus on universal issues with which the public can easily identify if it hopes to be a major force in the opposition’s unification.
Following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when Narendra Modi was elected prime minister, Indian politics changed. The Gandhi family-led Congress began to lose elections one after another. The only states where the party is currently in power are Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. It is a member of the ruling coalition in a few other states, including Tamil Nadu, Bihar, and Jharkhand. It would be inaccurate to claim that the politicians of the other regional opposition parties lacked national ambition before 2014. These aspirations for the country, however, are different today because the Congress’s replacement is the main focus.
Arvind Kejriwal, the national convener of the Aam Aadmi Party, has made it abundantly clear that his outfit has both a national ambition and a plan for the country. He most recently started a campaign with the slogan “Make India No. 1”. Similar to this, Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the TMC and chief minister of West Bengal, wants to unite the opposition parties. KCR, the TRS leader and chief minister of Telangana, recently demonstrated his desire to lead the country. Politically aware individuals have no doubt that Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, has national aspirations. The challenge here is that the Congress will need to acknowledge and respect these goals. It cannot think of a political fight against the BJP by crushing all the dreams of these important regional political parties. It must also acknowledge that these dreams did not materialise as a result of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi, but rather as a result of the Congress’s repeated failures in recent years under the Gandhis’ leadership.
The Congress should also go beyond secularism and RSS bashing. There is a lengthy debate about secularism and the necessity of secular politics. The majority of political parties today, including the TRS, Aam Aadmi Party, and Trinamool Congress, all hold various views on secularism. Secularism is not a topic that Arvind Kejriwal brings up at all. Additionally, he does not criticise Hindutva in his attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal and a vocal opponent of the BJP, is now progressively lowering her voice on the subject of secularism in an effort to shed her pro-Muslim reputation.
It is obvious from this that secularism is not currently the most compelling issue that can unite all of the opposition parties or appeal to the Indian people as a whole. The Congress must also acknowledge that the opinions of the other opposition parties capture the spirit and viewpoints of Indians from various regions.
Firstly, the Congress will have to accept that the opposition leaders will not look up to it anymore for their political future. Now whether the Congress becomes stronger and works as a pillar of opposition unity is an unstable idea until and unless it shows acceptance towards other political parties. Secondly, losing key leaders and MLAs state after state is proof that there are fundamental problems within the party. Rahul Gandhi, or even any superhero, cannot unify when the organisation is broken and getting broken every other day across states. This is why in the prevailing situation the opposition leaders are growingly becoming disenchanted with the Congress. The grand old party will not be able to survive just by showing that it got 19% votes across India in the last general election.
The writer is a columnist and a former policy research fellow at the Delhi Assembly Research Centre. He tweets as @sayantan_gh. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.