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Congress finally opts for change. But Rahul Gandhi has a tough task ahead

It is still a stretch to say the Congress is out of the woods, but at least it seems to be on the comeback trail under Rahul Gandhi

editorials Updated: Nov 20, 2017 20:06 IST
Hindustan Times
CWC,Congress party,Rahul Gandhi
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi with party leaders in New Delhi , November 16, 2017(PTI)

From sports to business, coaches and consultants have a simple rule: When it isn’t working, mix things up; change. There’s nothing to suggest this doesn’t apply to politics as well. The Indian National Congress’ decision to promote its vice-president Rahul Gandhi as president latest by mid-December needs to be seen in this context.

It’s no secret that things have not been going well for India’s own grand old party. The Congress has been on the ropes ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party powered to victory in 2014. Not only did the Congress lose that election, its performance was such that it did not even qualify for the status of the principal Opposition party. Since then, the BJP has swept most of the state elections , including those in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. Clearly, something needed to change.

There are people who see in Mr Gandhi’s elevation, and in the party’s sudden resurgence on social media, a new beginning and a possible revival. It is also true that the party’s criticism of the BJP has become more pointed and specific, especially in matters related to the latter’s handling of economic issues. But the ascension was pre-ordained; the BJP has recent good news to share on the economic front, courtesy the Moody’s upgrade and the World Bank’s Doing Business Study; and it was only a matter of time before the Congress’ social media cell took a leaf out of the playbook of the BJP’s. None of this points to a Congress revival -- at least, not in isolation. Much will depend on how Mr Gandhi chooses to run the party.

The Congress is a considerable political force despite having come off second best to the BJP in many recent elections. For instance, in almost all major state elections scheduled for next year (with the possible exception of Karnataka), the fight is between the BJP and the Congress. It also has a widely recognised brand and workers in almost all parts of the country. Finally, the Congress does have more bench strength than the BJP, as is only natural in a party that has spent more time in power since 1947, than out of it.

What the party has lacked is a strong positive message; the BJP, in contrast has successfully positioned itself on the plank of development. What the Congress has also been unable to do is to shed the baggage of the various corruption scandals that roiled it when it was in power. Its rank and file is demoralised and demotivated, thanks to successive electoral defeats. His elevation may address the third issue, but to succeed, Mr Gandhi will have to work on the other two.

First Published: Nov 20, 2017 18:05 IST