It could not have been a ruder or louder wake-up call. But the Congress seems to have reacted not by pulling itself together but by displaying an ever greater show of confusion. This explains why two of its top leaders, both considered Gandhi family loyalists, have spoken in what seems to be an out-of-turn fashion recently.
Perhaps they were telling the truth but both remarks do little to restore the credibility of the shattered party. Former defence minister AK Antony all but suggested that the party’s minority appeasement had cost it dearly in the elections and the perennial controversy-courter Digvijaya Singh came out with a statement that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who led the election charge, is not a “ruling person”. Of course, he hastened to clarify, after the damage had been done, that all he meant was that Mr Gandhi did not hanker for power but preferred to fight injustice. Perhaps, Mr Singh just doesn’t have a way with words. But, irrespective of the controversies these remarks have triggered, it is puzzling that after such a comprehensive defeat, the Congress leadership has done little instill a sense of hope or generate some motivation in the party, which is still to get the leader of the Opposition status in the Lok Sabha.
Some of its members have attacked the government for its policies, but they seem to be acting on their own volition. Such a shock defeat should have prompted immediate remedial action within the party. But the party, which has seen many ups and downs in its long history, seems unable to come to grips with the magnitude of its loss. It should logically be looking to revive its rank and file. It has an enormous reach across India, perhaps even more than the BJP. It should now be in consultations with local level leaders to come up a development-oriented blueprint to take on the regional parties as well as the BJP.
At every key meet, post the defeat, the Congress has reaffirmed its faith in the leadership of the party president and vice-president. The party should elect or select a person or persons who have acceptance within the rank and file of the party to take it forward. That person or persons should begin rebuilding the party. At present, the party seems to be in limbo. It sorely needs a strong leadership now and if this means that it must air its differences, then it is best that this is done in the appropriate forums. If there is a seamless transition to a more energetic leadership, half the battle will have been won.