No one expected veteran leader AK Antony, who was asked to find reasons for his party’s election debacle, to blame Congress president Sonia Gandhi or the visible face of its campaign, Rahul Gandhi. After all, a chap can’t blame his own bosses, can he? Instead, his report points to a weak party organisation and, laughably, the media for purportedly projecting the other side more in the run-up to the elections. His fact-finding report is plain pathetic.
Three months after the election results were out and the new government took charge, the state in which India’s two national political parties find themselves is a study in stark contrast. The Congress, decimated in the elections, is floundering — both in Parliament, where it has a tiny number of members in the Lok Sabha, as well as outside. It’s a strange existential problem that party has: in Rahul it has a family scion who has repeatedly shown that he’s reluctant to lead and yet the party is loath to trust anyone to do that.
Read: Rahul not responsible for Congress defeat: Antony
Privately, even rivals in the BJP say the Congress may have many more potential leaders than there are in their own party but the Congress still coalesces around the Gandhis — both in Parliament as well as in the party. It was once said that it is the Gandhi magic that gets the Congress its votes and, hence, it is the glue that keeps it together. That magic didn’t work in the last Lok Sabha elections.
Things in the other corner are the exact opposite. After a big election win, the BJP has formed a strong new government, of course, but in parallel, it has revamped the party too, with a new president, Amit Shah, who’s inducting a new young breed of members into his core team. You can like Shah or dislike him (with the charges he still faces and cases in courts, there could be many reasons for the latter) but the fact is that the man has a plan. That plan relates to fighting elections.
Already, Shah has plunged straight into electioneering. Last week, he kicked off with rallies in Haryana, one of the four states, along with Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, where the assembly elections are expected in a couple of months. And has already begun district-level meetings in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, the other two states that the BJP wants to win in.
Shah is considered the BJP’s man for winning elections, a reputation that got burnished further after the party’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh, where he was in charge and where it won 71 of the 80 seats in the Lok Sabha polls. He is a staunchly loyal aide and confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who called him the “man of the match” of the Lok Sabha elections.
Under him, the BJP could resemble more of an election-fighting machine than a conventional political party. Besides the four states that go to polls this year, there are by-elections to contest in Bihar (10 seats) next week and Uttar Pradesh (12) later.
Next year, Bihar will have its full-blown assembly elections; in 2016, five states, including West Bengal, a state that the party is eyeing, will hold elections; and, in 2017, assembly elections will be held in seven others, including, crucially, UP and Punjab. Most people in the BJP expect Shah to make the party a task force to fight these.
The Congress, in comparison, is still grappling with leadership issues. Rebellion has been brewing in states such as Maharashtra and Assam; and a party leader was suspended in Punjab for daring to criticise the high command (read: Gandhi family). Even in Parliament, its performance has been woeful: there was a flicker of hope when Rahul Gandhi in a surprise burst led his colleagues to the well in the Lok Sabha to demand a debate on rising communal violence but when the debate actually happened he inexplicably chose to sit out.
For the Congress, the more things change the more they remain the same. The same can’t be said about its main rival.