Once the single largest political party in India, Congress has lost much of its power, influence and appeal in the country. The Congress party has seen its ups and downs, but after 1984, when it won 415 Lok Sabha seats out of 543, its political dominance has been declining. After India’s independence, Congress party emerged as the largest political party, with presence across the country. Congress party has ruled India for several decades, but now the political tide seems to be working against it. In recent times, we see Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi trying to infuse fresh blood into the party, but whether or not it will work will become evident when results are announced for 2019 general elections. Before the elections begin, let’s take a look at some key reasons that have led to the decline of Congress party in India.
Dynastic mindset: Congress seems to favor dynastic rule, as is evident with three generations of the same family becoming the Prime Minister of India. First it was Nehru, then Indira Gandhi, followed by Rajiv Gandhi. Even after Rajiv, the Congress party was remote controlled by the family, when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. Now, after its rout in 2014 general elections where Congress got only 44 seats, there are plans to bring back the dynasty rule with Rahul Gandhi being presented as the next Prime Minister of India. However, the middle class of India stronglydisagrees with the dynasty mindset and may not yield to Congress’ plans. Dynastic mindset creates leadership vacuum and party workers just end up being puppets of the dynasty. People with talent and potential are thus sidelined, which eventually leads to political decline.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been quite vocal aboutits opposition to dynasty mindset and they have been successful in sending this message to Indian audience. Indian voters, especially the middle class, now understand the problem of dynasty politics and how it is harmful for the country. BJP has not only highlighted the dynasty mindset in Congress, but is also leading by example by denying tickets to immediate family members of its existing MPs and MLAs. Excluding specific cases, BJP has denied tickets to heirs of political bigwigs. Some recent examples include tickets denied to Manish Khanduri, son of B. C. Khanduri (MP and former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand) and Abhishek Singh, son of Raman Singh (former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh).
Rahul Gandhi’s inappropriate statements in Media: It’s common knowledge that Rahul Gandhi lacks maturity and is incapable of handling the affairs of the party on his own. Rahul is Congress party’s national president, but in reality he is no better than an actor who reads from a predefined script. Moreover, his behavior has been quite clownish and he has made inappropriatestatements in the media and other places. Rahul Gandhi’s infamous gaffes certainly make you laugh, but it destroys Rahul’s image of an able leader. Most people call him ‘pappu‘ and there are dozens of videos that reveal he doesn’t know much about being a good politician. Winking in the Parliament and embracing the Prime Minister of India in a clownish manner was amongst the things that show Rahul’s lack of maturity and seriousness. A leader is an individual who can bring people together and motivate them to a specific action, but Rahul seems to completely lack this ability.
Robert Vadra DLF Land grab scam: Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra is alleged to have been involved in land grab scam worth more than Rs 50 crore and has been charge sheeted by CBI. Robert Vadra has also been extensively questioned by Enforcement Directorate (ED). As Robert Vadra is a close relative of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, his involvement in a scam puts a question mark on integrity and honesty of Gandhi family members. A company linked to Robert Vadra is alleged to be involved in other scams as well. Now that even Priyanka Gandhi has taken the political plunge and performing absurdities such as drinking Ganga river water, the ulterior motives of Gandhi family are beginning to be unraveled in front of voters.
Rise of regional political stalwarts: After independence, national identity superseded regional identity, which helped Congress maintain its dominance across the country. However, as many years passed, new generations started favoring regional identities such as their communities and the state they lived in. This led to the emergence of regional parties and their leaders were unwilling to toe the line of Congress party. Many strong regional parties came into existence in the last 2-3 decades such as Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by Mamata Banerjee, Nationalist congress Party (NCP) led by Sharad Pawar, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) led by K. Chandrashekar Rao, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by N. Chandra Babu Naidu, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) led by Naveen Patnaik, etc. There are several other regional politicalparties that came up in the last three decades and these have eaten into the vote bank of Congress. Some of these regional parties have aligned with Congress-led UPA; some are part of BJP-led NDA alliance, whereas remainingparties continue to function on their own at the regional level. Rise of regional political parties and strong regional leadership is one of the reasons for decline of Congress party.
Imposing Emergency: After Indira Gandhi successfully orchestrated Bangladesh split from Pakistan in 1971, she became an iconic leader with mass following. However, after she lost a case against her in High Court and Supreme Court for irregularities in 1971 elections, she decided to impose emergency in India. The emergency was the darkest period in Indian history when judiciary was curtailed, most political leaders were jailed and media was censored. Even Nehru is said to have fallen into the trap of assuming oneselfas the supreme leader, something that was evident when he bestowed himself with Bharat Ratna. Such narcissistictendencies among the Gandhi family have led to the decline of Congress party.
Rise of middle class: At the time of independence and many years after that, India was largely an agrarian society. Most of India was backward and illiterate, which made it easier for Congress party to rule the country. However, things changed with time and today a significant percentage of India is educated and lives in large towns and cities. The middle class now seeks answers and wants to see results. It is ready to cast its vote in favor of leaders who are willing to work for the development of the country. The middle class is not swayed by ‘garibi hatao’ type of slogans and is looking for something more genuine and tangible.
Welfare state: Since its formation, the Congress party has favored the concept of welfare state. This may have worked earlier, but now things have changed and India is transitioning to a capitalist economy. Even today Congress continues to promise freebies such as farm loan waivers, minimum income guarantee, etc. These appear to be Congressstrategy to attract votes. The strategy has got good results for Congress in recent elections in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh. However, offering freebies is not good for the country in the long run. If everyone is provided free food and home, then not many will be willing to do the hard work required for a nation’s progress. This is why many educated voters have stopped favoring Congress party, leading to its decline.
Rising corruption: During UPA rule, a number of scams occurred such as 2G, navy war room leak, Common Wealth Games scam, coal scam, etc. People also felt that corruption was rising in the country. Due to such scams and corruption, people voted against Congress in 2014 general elections, resulting in a massive loss. In 2014, Congress got just 44 seats out of 543,its worst performance in 70 years.
Opposition parties have come and gone in India, but till date, no opposition party has ruled for long. History shows that Congress does not take long to make a comeback after suffering losses. BJP has emerged as a powerful counter force and has many popular leaders, but 2019 general elections looks tough for both sides. Rahul Gandhi does not come across as a strong leader, but with Priyanka joining hands, things can change for Congress. 2019 elections are being consideredwatershedmoment for the country, where people have the choice between strong leadership and dynasty mindset. What people vote for in 2019 will decide the fate of the country in the years to come.