I had just finished a TV debate when within minutes, the same channel flashed my immediate suspension from the Congress party in gigantic fonts. Momentarily, I was stunned by the abruptness of it all; the Congress had a month earlier similarly dumped me as the national spokesperson with a cold brusque one-line dispatch. Clearly, I was committing perfidious acts that were deemed blasphemous by my Grand Old Party.
If writing two op-eds in The Times of India (March 3 and June 7, 2020) that raised red flags on serious fault-lines within the party is an act of treachery, I am guilty of intransigence. If advocating a measured response to the cross-border military tensions with China is deemed as apostasy, I must apologise. If supporting the case of Sachin Pilot for Rajasthan CM makes me a BJP accessory, I humbly crave forgiveness.
Honestly, Congress appears thin-skinned, intolerant of dissenting voices giving contrarian views, and demonstrating raging impatience with those having political ambitions. It legitimately accuses BJP of illiberal democracy, but encourages a similar imperious culture within. The luminous hypocrisy is showing. But most importantly, the Congress is suffering from delusions of grandeur and that could prove perilous if there is no immediate course correction. There are five factors that signal a blockbuster washout.
1. DECLINING VOTE SHARE
The Congress traditionally aggregated average vote-share of 45%, which peaked at 48.1% in 1984 (a black swan election because Mrs Indira Gandhi was assassinated just a few months earlier). Since then, there has been a precipitous decline. Just a decade later in 1998, the Congress had slumped to 25.8%, nearly 50% of its supporters had vaporised. Clearly, few paid heed. The UPA years saw a minor bump to 28.5% in 2009 (Dr Manmohan Singh’s middle-class romance flourished briefly), before the catastrophic fall in 2014 to 19.52%, a fall of 59.5% from 1984. Worryingly, a strategy to arrest the fall is non-existent.
2. LOST STATES
The Congress has virtually surrendered political space in key large states of India. It has not formed governments in the following states for decades: Uttar Pradesh (1989), Bihar (1990), West Bengal (1977), Tamil Nadu (1967), Gujarat (1985) and Odisha (2000 ). These states add up to 247 Lok Sabha seats. The once formidable bastion of Andhra Pradesh of 40 seats can be added to the casualty list. We should not forget that it was after 15 years that Congress recaptured Madhya Pradesh (since magnanimously gifted back to the BJP) and Chhattisgarh. Who is accountable for the sustained underperformance and near extinction of the party in vote-rich states? The BJP often sarcastically dismisses the Congress as a “super regional party”.
3. NUMBER OF VOTERS STATIC
This statistic is probably the knock-out punch. Between 2004 (10.3 crore voters) to 2019 ( 11.9 crore voters), the Congress added a miserable incremental growth of 15% to its voter base. During the corresponding period, the BJP grew from 8.6 crore to 22.9 crore voters, a staggering 166% increase in new voters. This shows how the Congress lost the youth vote, one of the reasons behind its electoral losses of late.
4. POST-2019 SURRENDER
Following the devastating defeat of 2019, the Congress withdrew into a cocoon, allowing the BJP to get back into Karnataka (which just a year earlier had seen the Grand Alliance photo-op). But it was the political naivete in Madhya Pradesh that took the cake and the bakery, besides the defection of a huge political asset in Jyotiraditya Scindia. Gujarat, which in December 2017 was being hailed as the bearding of the lions (Narendra Modi and Amit Shah) in their own den, has since haemorrhaged as well. Rajasthan is the final nail in the coffin, a cavalier misadventure by the political leadership that has backfired. The Congress PhD thesis should be titled: Self-Destruction Assured in 10 Easy Steps!
5. LEADERSHIP VACUUM
Any organisation needs a continuous churn across hierarchies to remain fit. In the last 20 years, the Congress has had just two presidents and there have been no elections to the powerful Congress Working Committee since 1997. Since May 2019, it does not have a permanent president. Organisational atrophy is inevitable. The state of the party in Mumbai (the Congress was born here in 1885) reflects the shocking apathy towards India’s investment capital, industrial hub and entertainment industry; three significant constituencies in the political calculus. The ossified manner of working with a high-command taking decisions from a Delhi darbar is obsolete. A cunning cabal runs the party.
It can still be a serious competitor in 2024 but it does not have a moment to lose. It needs to take a bold call to signal its political intent; appoint a non-Gandhi Congress president and announce transparent internal elections. Perhaps after reading this article the party may decide to expel me altogether. But then everything has an end, only the sausage has two.
(The writer is a Congressman, recently suspended)