The outcome of the Lok Sabha elections will have a tremendous bearing on Congress. A repeat performance of 2014 by Narendra Modi-led NDA will not only seal the fate of the Congress but put a question mark on the political survival of the otherwise illustrious Nehru-Gandhi family.
No member of the Nehru-Gandhi family has been a failure. Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi died in office while Rajiv Gandhi was staging a comeback when a human bomb cut short his life at Sriperumbudur.
Sonia Gandhi led the Congress to back-to-back victories in 2004 and 2009, while Sanjay Gandhi died young. The onus is now on Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi to prove their mettle.
Priyanka Gandhi’s forays in Uttar Pradesh, her attempts to get some smaller parties on board indicate a desperate bid to find a foothold. A 100+ Lok Sabha tally will not only give breathing space but let the Congress live another day regardless of who forms the government at the Centre.
Against this backdrop, the issue of alliances was a tricky one for the Congress. For the uninitiated, it is often puzzling why the grand old party failed to grab a seat-sharing formula with the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and why it did not act swiftly enough to get into a Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh.
Apparently, the Congress, remained a tad diffident all along, fearing losing its identity in the national capital for the sake of two or three parliamentary seats. Party managers also remained mindful of subsequent state assembly elections and AAP’s expectations in Haryana and Punjab, where the Congress holds pole position. Similar was the case of Uttar Pradesh where even a 10-12 seat formula would have defeated the rationale of bringing in Priyanka Gandhi and giving Jyotiraditya Scindia the responsibility of reviving the party in eastern and western regions of the state.
Historically, the grand old party has taken upon itself the “duty” to lead the nation. Successive AICC political resolutions crafted and drafted by in-house wordsmiths like Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya, UN Dhebar, PV Narasimha Rao, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and Vithal Gadgil have insisted upon the Congress’ role in translating independence of the country into freedom for its people.
Speaking in Jaipur in 1948, Sitaramayya who had lost the election for party president to Subhas Chandra Bose in 1939, equated the Congress ideology closely with the Indian nation. He told AICC delegates, “The Congress is the service station of the life-giving ideology of the nation. The life-sustaining doctrines are pumped through the arteries of the government of the nation, where they become somewhat sullied in implementation and are returned to the Congress for purification. The ideology constantly discussed by the populace and constantly renovated as public opinion, is once again canalised by the Congress through the government in a renovated form, that is how the Congress and the government act and react upon each other…”
A large number of Congress leaders today have remained prisoners of the past. Their worldview has not changed since the Avadi AICC session held in 1955 when UN Dhebar, the then AICC chief, stated with a poet’s flair, “What is the Congress? It is a tear, fallen from the sufferings and agonised heart of humanity in bondage, coming to life. India has seen better days, but some of her weaknesses had become prey to the most subtle forms of exploitation — foreign and domestic. The more she tried to shake off the bondage, the faster, closer and tighter grew the bonds around her, till the agony of her heart and aches and pains of her body emaciated and famished for want of nourishment, both physical and cultural, could hardly bear them any longer.”
“The tear was destined to become a stream, the stream a river and the river a mighty Ganga or a Brahmaputra, which was to wash off its sins and weaknesses of ages, to weld her people together, breathe new life and new spirit into their heart, and carry them afloat, united, purified and strengthened by their cherished goal. It was to be a force unparalleled in the history of the world. Its unarmed and unsophisticated armies were to spread the message and undertake a mission the world has heard and worked for only on rare occasions.”
There was a slight shift in the Congress stand in 1998 when the party, under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, officially opened doors for coalition. However, its successive political resolutions have been refuting the claim that days of single-party rule were over and that a conglomeration of regional parties at the Centre could reflect the adequate federal character of the polity.
The Congress at Pachmarhi conclave had insisted that its concept of stability of ideas, policies and programmes was superior to regional parties which it claimed, could never evolve above local/ethnic/linguistic considerations.
The Congress at Pachmarhi brain-storming session in September 1998 dubbed coalitions as a passing phase, asserting that in the long run, the Congress would be able to govern on its own. Just before 2004 parliamentary polls, Sonia Gandhi tweaked the party line in Shimla to work out seat-sharing formula with the RJD and few others. However, the party think-tank insisted that a coalition government at the Centre would have to be headed by the Congress.
The big question doing the rounds in the Congress now is whether the party is prepared to think the unthinkable and practically hand over the task of taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to any ‘outsider’.
A section of Congressmen are increasingly favourable to this idea on two counts. Firstly, it will help Rahul Gandhi, 49, gain some time and experience particularly in an era where Westminster style parliamentary democracy is increasingly becoming US-style personality driven polity.
Secondly, unlike the Congress, any third front protagonist will be better equipped to bring many non-NDA groups, such as the BJD, YSR Congress or Telangana Rashtriya Samiti.
The flipside of this line of thinking is that the Congress may get further marginalised and lose out its traditional support base of minorities, Dalits and Scheduled Castes if a Mahagathbandhan government is formed at a national level. The so-called confusion among the Congress ranks is not without basis. After all, they are firm believers in what Sitaramayya had articulated seven decades ago, “The Congress is the service station of the life giving ideology of the nation…”
The outcome of 2019 polls has lot more to offer than expected.