If there was ever a case of getting one’s priorities wrong, the Congress is guilty of it. If the exit polls are to be believed, the party has been trounced so badly that it will take more than the customary huddle to get things back on track. But instead of taking the electoral verdict, as indicated by the exit polls, as a serious vote of no confidence in the UPA government, the party is busy trying to shield its vice-president Rahul Gandhi from having to take the lion’s share of the blame for the disastrous showing. Mr Gandhi himself must be embarrassed at this Operation Cover-up, since he is known to be a straight talker. The main issue here is to see what went wrong and how to revitalise the party. The party should also examine why its mega pro-poor schemes did not create a positive sentiment among the electorate. The Congress’ banking on the Muslim votes and the support of the backward castes too do not seem to have worked.
The party should perhaps endeavour to get out of its penchant to distribute state largesse to people, howsoever poor. It would be far better to equip people with the education and skills required to become self-sufficient. Mr Modi has not promised grand welfare schemes; on the contrary he was accused of being far too pro-business. The Congress has also been unable to shake off its woolly socialist leanings. Loyalty to the ‘dynasty’ may have worked at one time. Today, the voters need something more substantial than nostalgia. The Congress badly needs to let a meritocracy flourish within its ranks, something that Mr Gandhi has been attempting to do but without much success.
A stint in Opposition, again if the exit polls are right, would be a good chance to restructure the party from the grassroots. There has to be fresh thinking in the party and a clear-cut ideology. While Mr Gandhi is a young man and the Congress has several young and dynamic leaders, their imprint on the party is not really visible. This is a reality check for the Congress, and a brutal one at that. It has to reinvent itself for its very survival in its present form seems to be at stake.