The Congress party is facing its biggest existential crisis ever.
The party, for the second consecutive election, has won a pathetically low number of seats. It is unlikely to get even the Leader of Opposition status for the second time in a row.
The Congress party was in a direct fight with the Bharatiya Janata Party on 186 seats: it lost 171 and won only 15. Rahul Gandhi, taking the responsibility for the defeat, has offered to resign as party president.
The Congress, which cannot survive without a Gandhi family member at the top, is dissuading Rahul from stepping down and wants him to continue. News reports, however, suggest that Rahul is adamant about quitting and has asked the party to search for a new president, although the latest developments might indicate that he may stay on.
Rahul’s suggestion (to quit) is not devoid of risks as RJD chief Lalu Yadav said. The party may split as happened during Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri’s time with various disgruntled leaders like Arjun Singh, ND Tiwari, Madhavrao Scindia forming their own parties.
The Congress does not have a clear second leadership and many leaders are vying for the top slot which adds to the troubles. But do they have anybody who will be accepted by all the factions and take on Modi 2.0 is a key question.
Just one chart explains the troubles of Congress. The votes received by the party in 2019 (under Rahul) is the same as in 1989 (under Rajiv) while the total votes polled in the elections have doubled from 31 crores to 61 crores during the same period.
Votes Polled By Congress Party In Last Three Decades
There are five things which Congress needs to do to arrest the decline in its vote share and beat the ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ plan of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
1. Rahul as leader in Lok Sabha, someone else as party president
This will lead to division of responsibilities and reduce the burden on Rahul Gandhi. While he will be tasked with exposing the BJP’s failures in Parliament, the Congress president can focus on strengthening the party organisation.
The party president can travel through the length and breadth of the country putting the house in order. Rahul, can then focus on the bigger picture, policies and programs and present an alternate view to countrymen of the Congress ideology and philosophy.
The party has failed to corner the BJP in Parliament giving it a free run for five years. Since the proceedings are televised live, it reaches a bigger audience. Some of the past speeches by Rahul have been appreciated by the people of the country.
2. Create a ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ on the lines of BJP
The party badly needs a margdarshak mandal. The Congress Working Committee, the highest decision-making body is full of Indira-Rajiv-Sonia loyalists, many people above the age of 70, such as Manmohan Singh, Motilal Vora, etc. They are out of sync with a young country as India. They need to be removed from the CWC and put up in a think tank or advisory committee. The Leader of the Opposition and the president can seek their help and advice on matters they require. An age limit can be put (like in the BJP), anybody above 75 and part of CWC will be moved to this mandal.
3. Dismantle CWC, replace with young blood
The highest decision-making body needs to be dismantled altogether. It is full of people with no mass base. It even has people who are not members of any house of Parliament. It is a very large body (53 members, including permanent and special invitees) versus the BJP’s Parliamentary Party Board strength of 12. The average age of the CWC is 69 versus 60 for CPM Politburo and 57 for the BJP Parliamentary Board.
It also consists of many dynasts, including the Gandhi siblings, Gogois (father-son duo), Scindia, son of late Jitiendra Prasad, daughter of late Santosh Mohan Dev, late Jagjivan Ram’s daughter and former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal’s son. A popular leader, deputy chief minister of Rajasthan and once touted to replace Rahul, Sachin Pilot is not a member of the CWC. When Rahul became Congress president, it was expected that he would correct the imbalances in the CWC, but he made only cosmetic changes.
4. Increase women, Dalit and minority members
The party preaches secularism but has not developed tall Muslim leaders. It is now even being accused by the members of the community of doing lip service and not providing proper representation. The Muslims vote is split between Congress and regional parties nationally. Only 7% of party candidates were Muslims, while the Muslim population is 14% nationally. The party has only 3 leaders from the community in the CWC, while as per proportional representation the number should be 7.
The party promised 33 percent reservation to women in Parliament. In CWC, it has only 17% women members, half of what is promised. It has to first of all set an example. It needs to induct more women and minority/Dalit community leaders in the CWC. After all, Brahmins, Dalits and minorities used to be its traditional vote-bank.
5. Build new voting block
The chart above shows it has not been able to add a single vote block to its anchor voting segments. In fact, it has lost Brahmins to the BJP (kamandal) and OBCs (mandal) to the BJP and to regional outfits like Janata Dal. It has also lost a sizeable section of minority votes to regional satraps and Dalit votes to the BSP.
In wake of the emerging voting patterns, people voting across caste / class lines (especially youth), women coming out in large numbers and voting on their own and first-time voters coming into the elections space without any baggage, new strategies and targetting need to be employed.
To sum up, the Congress is by default the number two party in India and whenever people find an alternative, they vote for the Grand Old Party like in three Hindi heartland states late last year.
However, it also has to be wary of one thing: it has been receiving 25%-35% vote share in many states without winning a single seat. Its voters in those states may grow impatient and start looking for alternatives to defeat the BJP. The sooner it realises this, the better for the Congress...