What a revived Congress will mean for India today

Published on Aug 27, 2022 08:06 PM IST

There is substantial evidence to suggest the BJP could be vulnerable in 2024. A revived Congress, under an effective and respected president, could use this to determine the election result

A non-Gandhi Congress president may well be chosen, but will the family give him the freedom to act, speak, change strategy, and seek alliances as he wants? (PTI) PREMIUM
A non-Gandhi Congress president may well be chosen, but will the family give him the freedom to act, speak, change strategy, and seek alliances as he wants? (PTI)

If anything, Ghulam Nabi Azad’s dramatic resignation could push forward a process that may be underway. I’m referring to the possibility of significant change in the Congress party which could provide a turning point for our democracy. It arises out of the twin facts that the Congress is committed to electing a new president and that, reportedly, the Gandhis have decided they will not contest. So, could we, in turn, see the emergence of an invigorated, credible, and, perhaps, popular national Opposition?

I am, of course, relying on two assumptions. First, that a president chosen in a free and fair election, open for contest to all Congress members, will possess the electoral talent, the political sensitivity, the wider public appeal, and the gift of oratory to challenge the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and offer a meaningful alternative. Second, that he will be free to mould and change the Congress as he thinks fit. The Gandhis will not interfere. After Azad’s resignation, this may be the only way the Congress can survive.

Alas, the chances of my being wrong are greater than the possibility I may be prescient. A non-Gandhi Congress president may well be chosen, but will the family give him the freedom to act, speak, change strategy, and seek alliances as he wants? For the sake of their party and our democracy and, indeed, the future of the country, I can only hope they do.

Let me try to persuade them by arguing that there’s substantial evidence to suggest the BJP could be vulnerable in 2024. A revived Congress, under an effective and respected president, could use this to determine the election result. The evidence comes from India Today’s recent Mood of the Nation poll. Much of it is to do with the Indian people’s deep concern — even anguish — about the state of the economy. This is what matters most to the majority of us.

Of the respondents, 69% have identified issues to do with the economy as the biggest failure of the Narendra Modi government and 57% believe things will get worse or, at least, not improve. They far outnumber those who believe things will get better. More significantly, 67% say their economic status has deteriorated since Modi came to power in 2014 or remains unchanged. Only 28% say it’s got better. Add to this the 73% who think unemployment is either very serious or somewhat serious (56% say it’s very serious), and the 60% who believe their household income will either deteriorate or not improve and doesn’t it seem we’ve identified the Achilles' heel of the Modi government?

Yogendra Yadav, perhaps our most respected (former) psephologist, says the message is clear: “It’s the economy, the economy, the economy”. He says traditionally Indians are optimists about their economic future. This deep pessimism is a significant change which, if strategically handled, could lead to a major political shift.

However, the India Today poll suggests a second dramatic shift has also taken place. This time it’s to do with the Modi government’s democratic credentials. It seems a surprising but worsening infirmity has opened up. Asked “what do you think of the current state of democracy in India?”, 48% said it’s in danger and only 37% said it’s not. More importantly, those who believe it’s in danger increased by nearly 10% since January whilst those who say it’s not collapsed by almost 20. Today the gap between those who sense danger and those who don’t is an astonishing 11 percentage points.

Once again, this is something a new credible Congress president could build upon. Remember, the fact he would have won a free and fair election and represents an internally democratic party would strengthen his case.

Now, this opportunity may not last. Over the next 20 months, Modi and the BJP will do their utmost to reverse these perceptions. So, if this moment is to be taken at the flood, the Gandhis must step aside and give their successor his full chance.

Maybe, just maybe, Azad has ensured they will. But if they don’t, the Congress will continue to wallow in shallows and miseries.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story

The views expressed are personal

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