The Congress party, witnessing the disintegration of its government in Madhya Pradesh, resembles Tesla’s self-steering car – with no driver at the helm and some backend machinations working furiously to keep it on the road.
As long as the road is straight, there are no obstacles and unexpected bends, it is probably on course. But if it comes across something unexpected, a collision is inevitable. In this sense, the self-drive car is probably much better designed than India’s Grand Old Party (GOP).
In the case of the Congress party, its implosion in Madhya Pradesh is inexplicable as what is happening in the state was not unexpected at all. Right from the day the party won the November 2018 elections, it has always been in the air – that the BJP will make its move to unseat the Congress government. The party leadership, under the interim presidency of Sonia Gandhi, seems to have been completely unprepared despite this no-brainer of an event.
The Madhya Pradesh fiasco points to a deep crisis within the Congress which is unable to look beyond the Nehru-Gandhi family for leadership.
After the abysmal May 2019 election performance, the then party president Rahul Gandhi resigned from his position. Sceptics felt it was just a drama and he would withdraw his resignation on the request of senior colleagues. But he did not. The party top brass then pressured the former president Sonia Gandhi to take over despite not being in the best of physical health.
Ms. Gandhi may have obliged her colleagues out of a sense of responsibility, but the fact that experienced politicians in the Congress Working Committee could not and did not come up with an alternative speaks volumes about the mindset of the party which fears a non-Gandhi at the helm.
It is not surprising that the party’s spirits sank to an abysmal low following a humiliating defeat in the 2019 elections. It has been almost a year since then and yet there are no new ideas for the future. If the party won Assembly election in a state like Jharkhand recently it was a combination of anti-incumbency and the work done by the local unit of the Congress party.
What is more important is that the electorate still has some belief in the Congress even if the party leadership itself is in the doldrums.
In the case of Madhya Pradesh, right from the beginning there was rivalry between Kamal Nath and Jyothiraditya Scindia. The Gandhi family chose Kamal Nath but it never really tried to attempt a reconciliation between the two rivals. Sending Scindia to Uttar Pradesh to helm the party in a region of that state was all that the leadership could think of.
According to reports, Scindia wanted the post of Madhya Pradesh Congress president or a Rajya Sabha ticket. The leadership, surprisingly, did not oblige despite Scindia’s credentials as a long-standing party loyalist.
Eventually, it was no surprise that the BJP managed to use the wedge in the state unit to prise open the party and lure Scindia to its side. What is more shocking is that someone like Scindia who was in the Congress for 18 years did not have any problems shifting to the BJP, despite fundamental ideological differences between the two parties.
Or, is it that ideology is meant only for public consumption and a rhetorical tool used in elections to garner votes? To shift from the Congress to the BJP, Scindia like many other lesser colleagues in other parts of the country like Karnataka has clearly shown that when it comes to power, nothing matters. Call it what you will – opportunist, turncoat, defector – it peels off like dried paint.
For the Congress leadership, the development in Madhya Pradesh is surely a sign that it needs to wake up from coma. Next on the target will likely be Rajasthan where the ground is already fertile for the BJP to plough through. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot have not been on good terms, right from the start. And, there are no indications they have patched up or made good their feud.
The BJP has learnt innumerable lessons from the Congress in the art of real politics and has benefited enormously. There was a time when it projected itself as an alternative and promised clean politics etc. But that was in the past. Today, the party is almost a clone of the Congress in its worst avatar – during the period of the Emergency when Indira Gandhi ruled the roost. It is not a wonder that one automatically compares today’s situation to the Emergency. But no one can deny that the BJP has been a diligent student.
So, why can’t the Congress learn from the BJP? In the 2009 elections, the BJP lost to a Congress-led coalition, its second successive defeat after 2004. In a move that shook the party, the veteran leader, master strategist and co-founder of the BJP L.K. Advani was shoved aside and replaced by the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who had attracted attention of the RSS for his successes in his state. This was accompanied by a purge on the top with the old guard under Advani sent to the boondocks, a.k.a margdarshak mandal.
It is time for the Congress party to do something similar. Like a snake shedding its skin, the party to regain lost ground needs to shed itself of the Nehru-Gandhi covering and replace that with a collective leadership that has verve, drive and a commitment to Constitutional values.