A few home truths for the Grand Old Party. And who better to deliver them than Rahul Gandhi. The Congress General Secretary has minced no words about the party’s shortcomings while on a visit to Lucknow. The fault, according to Mr Gandhi, lies in the party’s inability to “connect with people”, the famed aam admi that formed a crucial election plank for the Congress. In what could be a harbinger to cleaning out the Augean stables, he also made it clear that the Congress would remove those leaders who got less than 5,000 votes in the last elections from the main bodies of the party. Mr Gandhi’s wake-up call to his partymen comes not a moment too soon.
The Congress has been out of power in electorally crucial states like Uttar Pradesh for nearly two decades. Its vote share has remained more or less stagnant and it has not been very successful in opening its innings in other states. The BJP, its main national rival, has by dint of its fortuitous alliances, wrested power in an important southern state like Karnataka, its first-ever ministry in the South. The Congress, by comparison, is nowhere on the horizon there. Though he has not articulated it in so many words, what Mr Gandhi has said is that the Congress has not quite lived up to its promise that it would focus on bread and butter issues like education and health. The Congress, it is clear, is still coming to grips with the fact that electoral success today hinges on strategic alliances. It seems unable to stomach the fact that powerful regional allies may well call the shots in an alliance, reducing the Congress to the position of a junior partner. It still harbours hopes that it can go it alone — an unrealistic approach that parties like the BJP have junked well in time. The Congress is well set to reclaim lost ground today with the induction of fresh and talented members. Mr Gandhi is seen as a unifying factor for the party’s youth. Given the demographics in India today, this ‘youth vote’ could well hold the key to the seat of power in New Delhi.
The significance of the fact that Mr Gandhi made these remarks in UP will not be lost on anyone. Given the present electoral mathematics, the state is crucial to any party that has national aspirations. If the party acts on Mr Gandhi’s words, it could translate into a fresh lease of life for the Congress.