On December 28, 2021, the Congress party celebrated its 137th foundation day. During an event to mark the occasion, president Sonia Gandhi was present at the party headquarters in New Delhi. As soon as she tried to unfurl the Congress tricolour, it fell off the flagpole into her hand. The video of incident went viral. The episode sums up all that is wrong with the Grand Old Party. Mismanaged - is probably the word that defines the present day Congress the best.
The history has it that the Congress has faced several challenges in the past and the party tackled all not only to survive but to lead and govern India for decades. But the present crisis that the party is facing is unlike what it had faced ever. The Congress imploded in Punjab, one of its few stronghold states. Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh are the two other states where the party is in power and rumblings are being heard from there too regularly.
Congress vs BJP - The Big Difference
In a surprising move, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani stepped down from the top post on September 11, 2021. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) central leadership went ahead for a complete overhaul of Gujarat state cabinet and replaced all Team Rupani ministers with fresh faces. The transition was swift and without any moaning from outgoing ministers. The big move came just months ahead of crucial Assembly polls in the state next year. The BJP didn't shy away from going ahead with the change of guard in PM Modi's home state. The Congress high-command may have tried to replicate BJP's Gujarat plan in Punjab amid the ugly Amarinder Singh-Navjot Sidhu tussle but found itself in a massive quagmire.
The Gujarat, Punjab episodes show what makes BJP a superior organisation than the Congress. The command of the leadership over the party is evident, but it is the discipline of the leaders, workers right from the top to the bottom of the ladder that makes all the difference.
Captain Amarinder Singh led the Congress to a remarkable victory in 2017 Punjab Assembly election ensuring party's return to power in the state. After sour-and-half years at the helm, Amarinder Singh, considered to be a Gandhi family loyalist, said after resigning from CM's post that he was 'humiliated' by the Congress leadership repeatedly.
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"I was humiliated thrice by the Congress leadership in the past two months. They called the MLAs to Delhi twice and now they convened a meeting of the CLP in Chandigarh. I had decided and informed Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the morning that he would resign," Singh told reporters after handing over his resignation letter to the Governor.
"Apparently they (the high command) do not have confidence in me and did not think I could handle my job. But I felt humiliated at the manner in which they handled the whole affair," he went on to add.
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This is not for the time that an old hand of Congress criticised and accused the party's top brass of 'humiliation'. Assam Chief Minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was earlier with the Congress, had in an interview to a newspaper recalled his meeting with Rahul Gandhi in the run up to the 2016 Assembly polls in the northeastern state. He said Congress leaders were uses to being 'ignored' and 'insulted' by Rahul Gandhi.
Sarma has also famously said that Rahul Gandhi was playing with his pet dog 'Pidi' during his meeting and was least interested in listening to issues being raised by him. "We were served with tea and biscuit, the dog went up to the table and picked up one biscuit from the table. Rahul looked at me and smiled at me. I was thinking why he is smiling, I was waiting for Rahul Gandhi to press the calling bell and ask someone to change the plate," Sarma told Indian Express.
"After some time, I saw Congress leaders Joshi, Gogoi all taking the biscuits from the same plate and started eating. I was not a frequent visitor, and then I realised that this is normal for everybody as it happens in every meeting. That day I decided that enough is enough," he had said.
Congress - The Casual Party
Despite a plate full of issues - price rise, economy, unemployment, Covid management, Pegasus - infront of it, the Congress has failed to corner the Modi government effectively on any of these. The biggest issue with the Congress is that it has failed to stick to one issue and make it resonate with the people of India to make a dent on the 'clean' image of the government.
Apart from stunts like tractor march to Parliament or Rahul Gandhi's sarcastic tweets, the Congress has appeared too casual to pose any challenge to the saffron party. Rahul Gandhi's 'chowkidar chor hai' or 'suit boot ki sirkar' slogans have failed to stir up any public support in the past and his party appears lost when it comes picking up issues concerning the aam aadmi.
Moreover, the Congress has failed repeatedly to come out with any formula to take down the Modi-Shah duo. While Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal have successfully defended their respective forts from BJP's onslaught, the Congress has failed in doing so primarily because of absence of a sturdy central leadership.
How can Congress turn 2022 as one of its best
The Congress actually never recovered from the hammering it got in 2014, and since then things have gone worse for the party. However, 2022 could be the year that can see its resurrection. With Assembly elections due early next year in several states, the coming months are crucial for the Congress and it must come out of the present 'comatose' state for the better of Indian political and democratic set up.
Rather than wasting its energy, effort and resources in 'uwinnable' Uttar Pradesh, the party should look to stregthen in states like Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where it is in power. Rahul and Priyanka should use the opportunity to tighten party's grip at the grassroot level in these states.
The Congress, founded on December 28, 1885, finish as one of the top parties on the 2024 general election's podium, it must win a few states in 2022 and find a way to cull out the deep dejection simmering within the party and look for ways of course-correction. Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have their tasks cut out.