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Can a debacle in 2014 be a fresh beginning for Cong?

india Updated: May 16, 2014 00:39 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is likely to use the party's debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls as a spur to revamp the 128-year-old monolith.

Party leaders say that a massive overhaul is on the cards, which will also likely include an attempt to bring about a generational shift in the grand old party.

The reshuffle will see young leaders being entrusted with key responsibilities, including the all-important task of reinvigorating the cadre to ensure against mass desertions.

The primacy being given to youth is bound to cause some heartburn among the old guard, already angry at being sidelined in a campaign that ended in disaster. They are likely to hit back, while clinging to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for support and putting up a united front in public.

“Rahul has promised to take seniors along in his quest to make the party a powerful instrument of change,” a senior leader maintained, hopefully. “The young and the experienced both are the heart of the Congress.”

Read: Unhappy with Congress campaign, Sonia seeks corrective steps

Much before he began to slug it out in the heat and dust of 2014 polls, Rahul had set his eyes on 2019. He is a strong votary of sitting in the opposition in case the Congress doesn’t get enough numbers to form the government and focus on rebuilding the party.

But that is another daunting task. The organisational set up is weak in all big states, especially Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

After being voted out of power in UP in 1989, the Congress struggled hard to regain a foothold for the next two decades. There were some signs of hope in 2009 when it bagged 22 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, but it failed to build on those gains and again collapsed in the 2012 assembly polls, scraping together 26 of the 403 seats.

Similarly in Bihar, the Congress has been reduced to a marginal force post 1989. In the 2010 assembly elections when it decided to go alone, the party could get only four of the total 243 seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress is riding piggy-back on the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

The party will also have to prepare to face the electorate in October when assembly elections will be held in Maharashtra and Haryana.

The other important challenge for the Congress is to reconnect with the middle class, youth and the common people who have become disillusioned with it.

Over the past few years, these sections had displayed their anguish against the Congress-led government by repeatedly taking to streets on the issues of corruption and rising prices.

Even Sonia had once admitted that her party’s revival largely depended on addressing the disenchantment of the youth, middle class and the disadvantaged section.

Congress leaders are hopeful that the party will re-emerge stronger after its humiliation. “Don’t write us off, we will bounce back,” Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said.

“Media had written us off in 1977 (but) we bounced back; again wrote us off in '89, we bounced back; we again bounced back in '99. So for God's sake, don't write us off.”