Congress is showing signs of revival but big challenges remain ahead of 2019 test
Rahul Gandhi’s US tour and Congress’ social media efforts are positive signs for the Opposition; but the party has real challenge to overcome and, more crucially, sustain this momentum till the 2019 pollseditorials Updated: Oct 15, 2017 21:17 IST
Over the past few weeks, the Congress, which has been unable to show much energy post its 2014 debacle, has finally been getting key elements in place to emerge as a strong and credible Opposition.
Rahul Gandhi’s United States tour revealed a relatively neglected, thoughtful and focused side of him to audiences. He was seen as candid about the failures of the Congress, conscious of the challenges before India, and aware of the centrality of economic growth and job creation. But the test was whether he would be able to sustain the momentum. Early evidence suggests he is taking greater responsibility in the party; he has travelled twice to Gujarat on yatras to build support for the party in the run up to the state elections, once to Amethi, and once to Himachal Pradesh in a little over a fortnight.
But beyond the individual, the Congress has also woken up to the social media game, and for the first time in years, is creating counter narratives on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. Remember, it was on social media that the BJP was able to carve out a distinct space in the run up to the 2014 general polls.
This has coincided with challenges the government is facing on the economy. Whether the Congress has created the discontent or is merely tapping into the discontent remains an open question.
This is however not to suggest that the Opposition is back, for the Congress has real challenges to overcome. Its organisational elections have not yet reached a logical conclusion; Rahul Gandhi’s communication skills need further refinement and public outreach must be more consistent; the Congress organisation is weak even as the BJP has created among the most formidable election machines any party has had so far; the Congress has not been able to create a younger generation of leaders from backward communities, the OBC groups in particular, which the BJP is systematically wooing; it remains dismally weak in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which are so important on the national stage; and, it has not yet made decisions on leadership in key poll-bound states.
Any democracy needs a strong Opposition — to ensure that there are checks on those in power, policies are carefully scrutinised, and people have viable alternatives to consider. Over the next year, the Congress will confront the BJP directly in six states — Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — leading up to 2019. The party’s real test begins now.