Forewarned is forearmed — a simple enough dictum but one which seems to have eluded the mighty brains’ trust of the Congress. Look at it this way; was anyone in a better place to start planning for the 2014 polls this year than the party that was in its second term?
Yes, the party was buffeted by scams and scandals but nevertheless it has a gigantic machinery and cadre right across the length and breadth of the country. It could have activated all this even as the government fought off allegation after allegation.
If nothing else, the Congress was at one time famed for its deft political management. The fancy footwork of people like Kamal Nath is spoken of with awe by rivals. Yet, it seemed to have developed two left feet when it came to its politics this time around.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi did make efforts to energise the rank and file and he did make efforts to involve the youth. But politics in India does not work through corporate style interviews and selections, it works more on local conditions and that all powerful political instinct. The Congress seems to have forgotten all the benchmarks it set for itself and others in the past.
The most glaring sin of omission, as I see it, is the disconnect with the term aam aadmi. The Congress was the original party of the aam aadmi. Thanks to its somewhat outdated socialist mindset and its social welfare schemes, the Congress had firmly posited itself as the party of the common man.
It projected itself as the party of inclusive growth. Yet, thanks to its cavalier attitude and lethargy, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) picked up the term and ran with it. And with spectacular success. The Congress could have put up a fight for its own patent moniker but it folded up its tent and slunk away as AAP played the role of the camel in the Arab’s tent.
The government firefighting and gearing up the party machinery are two different things. It made no sense for things to settle down on the government front before getting into election mode. The Congress had the mover advantage and it blew it. Its state units should have been hard at work at least a year or two ago selecting candidates and engaging in course correction. Instead, it sat paralysed as other formations began to coalesce around the country.
The BJP, literally on the ropes after several electoral drubbings, moved from trot to canter to gallop even as the Congress watched from the stands. It was never any secret that the BJP’s brahmastra would be someone like Narendra Modi. If the Congress thought that it would face a mellow LK Advani in the electoral ring or even the gentle Sushma Swaraj, then it got its politics even more wrong that I would have thought.
If AAP does contest as many seats as it says it will, then the Congress has to do more to really pull out all the stops. Assuming that both the BJP and the Congress are hoping to get a workable figure and then pull in the allies, a reasonable showing of even 40 seats by AAP could really rewrite the script. Here again, the BJP with its focused campaign has the edge over the Congress, which is floundering to even declare a PM candidate. By all accounts, it is likely to be Rahul Gandhi but when, oh when will we be told about it?
The waffling that the leader will be announced at the appropriate time makes the party’s condition look even more parlous. If people know what they are voting for with the BJP, surely they will expect the same from the Congress. The Congress also had the glorious opportunity of showcasing its big ticket social welfare schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
It even spoke of an urban MGNREGA at one time. It should have taken credit for the right to information, the right to education and the food security law. Instead, it seemed to be grappling for a big idea that so far has not come to it.
I think it never really needed a big idea. Its little achievements, if they can be called that, would have been enough to impress people had they been marketed well. AAP, after all, only had promises to offer and look where that took it. The Congress actually had several pro-aam aadmi schemes up and running but has been left whistling in the dark.
I feel that the party badly needs to recover its political acuity, something it possessed in abundance in the past. Where are the sharp strategists, its number crunchers, its dyed-in-the-wool political animals? I fear that now it is a little too late to recover lost ground. Others have moved ahead quickly and unless they take a tumble, the Congress is slowly being left behind.
Like a student cramming for an examination at the eleventh hour, the Congress finds itself struggling under the weight of the task before it. If it had just had the tiniest bit of foresight, it would have at least seemed like a rival to fear. Sadly, today, it seems to be just one more party in the fray.