With barely a week to go for its 127th anniversary, the Congress is in an increasingly vulnerable position. The Gujarat poll results will affect the party’s relationship with its allies and from a position of advantage it is heading towards a position of disadvantage. The party, it appears, will find it difficult not to succumb to allies’ pressure. Its capacity to assert itself has diminished considerably, even though some leaders are trying hard to play down the debacle by pointing towards the win in Himachal Pradesh. But the truth is that the victory in the hill state is more because of Virbhadra Singh and less due to the central organisation.
The Gujarat results are painful because the state president as well as the leader of opposition in the assembly lost their seats. Some senior leaders have responded to the drubbing in a casual manner but there has to be a realisation somewhere that things are deteriorating not only in Gujarat but in other parts of the country too due to the party’s faulty approach on many crucial matters.
In this context, the super conclave in Jaipur in January assumes great significance because it could provide an opportunity to go in for a course correction even at this late stage. There is speculation that if the party does not review its policies and structure, it could be out of power after the next general polls.
There is an ongoing debate on whether the polls will be held in 2013 or 2014. Many in the Congress have also started predicting an early poll given that several assembly elections are due in 2013 and in at least five of them the party is pitted against the BJP in a straight fight. The fear is that if the Congress loses to the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Delhi next year, it will find it difficult to face the electorate in 2014. Therefore, politically it may make more sense in having the parliamentary polls along with the assembly elections or just before them.
Second, the leadership has to ensure that the regional leaders are strengthened after the good showing of Virbhadra Singh. This means that leaders like Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Sheila Dikshit in Delhi and others should be made responsible for the parliamentary elections too.
The Congress must also examine whether the policy of outsourcing tasks to new entrants needs to be scrapped. In Gujarat, party general secretary and Gujarat Congress in-charge Mohan Prakash looked clueless and projecting Shankersinh Vaghela (with his RSS background), who was the Gujarat party chief in 2002 and was this time the campaign in-charge, was not a good idea. Similarly, entrusting important states to ‘outsiders’ (for example, putting Madhusudan Mistry, who was earlier in the BJP, is in charge of Kerala and Karnataka) is alienating the party cadres.
The party needs to rethink the appointment of spokespersons, many of whom are from outside the Congress stream and so are not very conversant with its ideology and background. In addition, there is a connect problem as the grassroots workers have also seen them in their earlier avatars as representatives of other parties.
The leadership needs to be accessible and has to interact with workers and organisational functionaries, especially the block and district chiefs. The bottom-up approach should probably be attempted, as top-down initiatives do not seem to be working. The Congress has a lot to worry about and unless matters are discussed threadbare and addressed in Jaipur or before that, the problems for the party will continue to mount.