Five factors that led to Congress's decline over the years

Updated on Aug 29, 2022 09:24 PM IST

In this edition of the First Voice Last Word, our weekly podcast on politics, Hindustan Times takes a deeper look at what has led to this decline.

The Congress is confronting its most serious crisis in its electoral history since 1951. (HT file)
The Congress is confronting its most serious crisis in its electoral history since 1951. (HT file)
By, New Delhi

The Congress is confronting its most serious crisis in its electoral history since 1951. Since the 2019 debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, the second in a row, it has not won a majority in a single state assembly election on its own. From 400 plus MPs in Lok Sabha in 1984, the current number of parliamentarians, including the Rajya Sabha ones, is just 84 out of a total of 793. Never before in the history of the party, have, they had this low of fewer than 100 seats in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. In all the states across India, Congress has 695 MLAs while the BJP has almost double that with 1383 MLAs. It's not surprising since they didn't win even one of the 5 states that saw elections recently — Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur.

In this edition of the First Voice Last Word, our weekly podcast on politics, Hindustan Times' Sunetra Choudhury takes a deeper look at what has led to this decline. It also comes at a crucial time, with organisational elections about to kick off and their very ambitious Bharat Jodo Yatra, that will have Congress leader Rahul Gandhi cover the length and breadth of the country by doing a padyatra. However, what are the intrinsic problems that the party faces? Here are five factors that Sunetra culled it down to, along with author and journalist Rasheed Kidwai.

Factor number 1- HR crisis

Their number one problem is talent management or the problem of losing all their big names. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sushmita Dev, Jiten Prasada, RPN Singh, Kuldeep Bishnoi, and Kapil Sibal are just some of the people who just felt that Congress didn't have any future for them or felt neglected. In most of the cases, like in Azad's, the Congress dismissed the exit as that of someone who had limited influence. In reality, however, many of the leaders became significant in the rival team. Take for instance, Jitin Prasada who is now a second-time minister in the UP BJP government. In the Congress, he was unable to really do anything between 2014 and 2021. But in BJP, he has emerged as a strong Brahmin leader who delivered all 5 districts assigned to him during the UP elections and now has been entrusted with a second term..So why do people start performing in other parties? It all comes down to bad HR. Or let's take another example. like that of senior Congress leader Anand Sharma. Last week, Sharma resigned from the role he was assigned to handle the Himachal Pradesh elections. “So why should I continue somewhere where my position has become untenable. How could I deliver when I'm excluded even in meetings? And by whom? Let these buffoons who are ruining the party, send all of them. Can they fight the BJP there?” Now, whether Anand Sharma is useful to the Congress Party is debatable. but what's certain is that, his public outburst made the party look bad! In the old days, these tantrums, mollifying those who are unhappy, was handled quietly behind the scenes but there just doesn't seem to be anyone doing this crucial job anymore.

Factor number 2- Leadership issue

One of the people who quit recently is Haryana leader Kuldeep Bishnoi. After quitting, he told reporters that he kept waiting for Rahul Gandhi to give him a call. However, it's interesting to note why he was expecting Rahul to solve the problem when Sonia Gandhi is the boss. It would be unthinkable to imagine this being a grey area for any other party but here's why it is. Rahul Gandhi was the President from 2017 to 2019 when he resigned after a poor performance in general elections. His mother was requested to come back from retirement but her title is interim congress president. By itself, it reflects the flux and between 2019 and this year when new elections are due, Rahul Gandhi controlled the reins of the party and took critical decisions without really being held accountable for it. Crucial decisions also got missed in this. An example from a recent election- Congress had the numbers in Assam but they lost the Rajya Sabha seat for Ripun Bora as some of their own party MLAs voted for the rivals. Apparently, Bora wasn't popular at all. Now, this problem with Bora was flagged to the top leadership two months ago, but no one listened. Just a day before the election, they suddenly woke up and asked what could be done. By then, it was too late and Ripun Bora is now in another party - The TMC . An opportunity to fix this problem is coming up soon, as the organisational elections are due next month. But a lot lies on how they go? The Congress could solve one criticism they constantly face of being a Nehru-Gandhi party- they could elect a new president who isn't from the Gandhi family but it's unclear if there will be a such a person who'll be willing to take on this crown of thorns.

Factor number 3- Lack of modern tools, methods

Our reporting revealed a great example of this- election strategist Prashant Kishor told the party that in the last general elections, the Congress gave tickets to 170 odd people who had lost elections three times already! Basically, they were candidates who the voters didn't want. The data and the analysis which reveals what the party's voter base looks like is either not available widely or is simply not used to inform their decisions. They simply rely on `mahaul' or gauging the party mood through workers, which simply isn't reliable anymore. That's the reason why election strategists are being hired by all political parties and the Congress has to catch up. They've made some effort by hiring a strategist called Sunil Kanugolu but the question always is, will Congress do what these strategists suggest?

Factor number 4- Communication & messaging

Communication is key for any political party because as we know, politics is all about perception. In Congress, Communication gets a poor C. Let me illustrate with the story of how Congress handled the controversy created by a video of Rahul Gandhi emerging on Eid when he was travelling abroad this year. In the 12-second clip, we see Rahul Gandhi at what looks like a nightclub, there's music,there's strobe lights and it doesn't look like a wedding but that's what the party says in its defence. Now everyone in the Congress knows that this is a sensitive issue, that Rahul Gandhi does go on holidays unlike Narendra Modi and there's nothing really wrong with that It's just that the government is able to project him as a part-time politician as opposed to the PM, working non-stop. Now Manmohan Singh also never took any holidays, so it's not a BJP versus Congress thing, But, the Congress isn't able to give a compelling reason for such instances. It's indicative of the party's larger narrative problem.

Factor number 5- Funding

The final reason for the party's decline is funding. Simply put, the Congress has no money and you need money to give you the resources to fight elections. It's like a vicious cycle. you need money to run an effective campaign and win and funding goes most to those who are winning.... so with poor performances all along, funding has dried up for the congress party and is a fraction of their rivals. 91% of a party's funds come from corporate funding, and according to ADR, the congress only got 133 crores in the year 2019-2020 while the BJP got 720 crores in that same period ... they had 2025 corporate donors while (the Congress had just 154. ... so a lot of it is all about the money ...To solve this problem, the party may have to think of novel methods... like a national crowdfunding drive perhaps?

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sunetra Choudhury is the National Political Editor of the Hindustan Times. With over two decades of experience in print and television, she has authored Black Warrant (Roli,2019), Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous (Roli,2017) and Braking News (Hachette, 2010). Sunetra is the recipient of the Red Ink award in journalism in 2016 and Mary Morgan Hewett award in 2018.

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