Remember when Nationalistic Congress Party was formed? It was a creation of Sharad Pawar and P A Sangama as a revolt from Soniya Gandhi. In one stroke, congress lost its most popular leaders of Maharashra and of North East. Congress has never been as strong in Maharashtra ever since. This is not just a story of clash of ambitions, its a deeper issue. This split is at the root of why congress is in dire straits, and why it can’t recover in foreseeable future.
It started with Indira. Her elevation to leadership was neither easy, nor uncontroversial. There were much bigger, stronger stalwarts with a claim. The biggest contender after Shastriji’s death was Morarji Desai, representing the Right wing of congress. He lost the internal political fight but agreed to become the Deputy PM and Finance minister under Indira. He left when Indira nationalised all banks and stalled credit growth for decades. Similarly, Kamraj, one of the biggest contender for the post of Prime Minister twice, remained King Maker and kept Congress on top in Tamilnadu for decades. He was also seen as a threat by Indira and a split was forced. Thus was Indian National Congress converted to Indira Congress, and Congress lost leaders such as Virendra Patil, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Biju Patnaik, Ashoka Patel and many more during Indira reign.
Indira worked tirelessly to cut any leader that posed a threat, but that was a time of few other alternatives, and new mass leaders kept emerging within Congress. Rajiv tried to continue this and arrest the popularity of the guy who was getting more and more popular: VP Singh. We know how that turned out, though. V P Singh won, and Janta Dal started a new wave of socialism + casteism + appeasement that continues to the day.
There was a different period after Rajiv Gandhi’s demise, though. Congress, for a few years, was not run like a fiefdom. There was dissent, there was genuine competition for power, and in power was the greatest Congress PM in my opinion. P V Narsimha Rao was no mass leader, though. He relied on many others to get votes for him, and it didn’t work out. Not that congress had a dearth of leaders at the time. There were leaders such as Pawar, Mamta Banerjee, V C Shukla, S M Krishna, and many more, but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t ensure a victory for the party. In the years when India was ruled by the likes of Devegowda and Gujral, the “loyalists” in congress succeeded in what they wanted: bringing Sonia Gandhi to head the party. As soon as the drama of humiliation of Sitaram Kesari and Namsimha Rao started, it was clear that congress was returning to the feudal structure it felt most comfortable in.
This was the phase of an exodus of leaders from the party. NCP, Trinamool were formed in West and East. In central India, stooges such as Digvijay gained power at the expense of mass leaders. When Chhattisgarh was formed, V C Shukla was, at the last minute, replaced by Ajit Jogi as CM on the orders of “High Command”. Since then, Congress has not won even a single election in Chhattisgarh despite the less than stellar local leadership of BJP. And as soon as Jogi started getting some mass base, even he was forced out of leadership here. In Odisha, Biju Patnaik’s son rules, challenged only by BJP. In state after another, an absence of genuine leaders is shrinking congress to the anti BJP votes. In states with a strong regional party, it loses even that vote. Congress is the most rapidly shrinking force in Indian politics today.
This is the story of congress. A family paranoid about holding its grip on power and a coterie of political nobodies that cling to the leadership in order to stay close to power. Do people like Sanjay Jha and Manishankar Aiyar have any support anywhere? Is Chambaram the best congress can do in TN? The height of propping up a puppet was when Manmohan Singh was made the Prime Minister despite his obvious inability to win even a single Lok Sabha election. Popularity got you a kick in this party, bootlicking got you promoted.
The best news for Congress today is from Punjab, but you will see little celebration of that. The fact is Captain Amrinder Singh was one of the first major politicians to openly ask for a change of leadership at the top. It was desperation that led the leadership to not only let him remain in the party, but also give him autonomy in how to run his state’s campaign. He has produced a spectacular victory despite/ due to no Rahul Gandhi campaign in Punjab. Once there were such leaders in every nook and corner of India who knew their region like the back of their hand, and won elections for the party. Now the congress has jokes like Raj Babbar running their UP campaign.
This decline is not an accident. Nor is it just a matter of Rahul Gandhi not being popular, or eligible for a leadership role in any way. This is a deep malaise in congress that leads to an aspiration for feudal power structure and a disregard for the people. Remember, most BJP leaders didn’t want Narendra Modi either, but the party structure made sure the most popular leader rises to the top. When you replace structure with dynasty worship, you get leaders who are openly called Pappu.
Its not great for Indian democracy to be saddled with only a single national party, but thats the legacy the bootlickers of congress are going to leave.