Can Congress set aside the dynasty factor?

The Congress seems hopelessly adrift in turning around the fortunes of the oldest political entity in the country. Its leaders are sadly out of sync hoping against hope that the erstwhile party president Rahul Gandhi will come round in taking up the stewardship of the Old Lady of Bori Bunder.

That appears highly unlikely for now with the saffron brigade having crossed the rubicon of 300 on its own for the first time in the 543-member Lok Sabha and is comfortably placed along with its allies. On the other hand, the Congress is clueless in getting its ship to sail having been in the vanguard of the country's struggle for independence. Congress leaders and particularly the rank and file are a demoralised lot not knowing what the future holds for them. It is rather bleak as the party lacks a leader capable of pulling the chestnuts out of the fire as it were.

On the other hand the BJP, particularly its supremo Narendra Modi, has begun his second consecutive five-year term as the Prime Minister having strengthened his grip on the national narrative. The BJP-led NDA is in a strong position with a shade over 350 seats in the Lok Sabha. To add muscle, the BJP has steadily gained power in several states in the country with the saffron colour dominating the country's map. The national capital of Delhi is, however, ruled by chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi party. This remains a highly sticking aspect for the BJP. Nevertheless, its eyes are now rivetted on the erstwhile Left bastion of West Bengal where it wants to send the TMC chief minister Mamata Banerjee packing in next year's assembly elections. The state accounts for a sizeable 42 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Amid all this, Modi has got cracking on his government's three-point agenda set by the BJP's ideologue, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. It is beginning to take shape with the abrogation of Article 370 according special status to Jammu and Kashmir. He has dared the opposition to try seeking the reversal of Articles 370 and 35 A in their election manifesto in the ensuing elections in Haryana and Maharashtra. Emphasising that J&K is the "crown of India", Modi assured that normality will return to the Valley in less than four months.

The three-point agenda set by the RSS pertained to abrogation of Article 370, building a Ram Temple in Ayodhya and having a Uniform Civil Code. The Prime Minister pointed out that the government has already fulfilled the promise made to Muslim women on Triple Talaq.

At the same time what has come to the fore time and again is that nothing unites Congressmen more than the sight of electoral victory while political wilderness leads to intense bickering among its rank and file. This is once again the case both in Haryana and Maharashtra where assembly elections are scheduled to be held less than a week away on October 21 with the counting fixed for October 24. In both these states Congress is a divided house thanks to intense factionalism. The chances of the Congress making a comeback either in Haryana or Maharashtra appears remote. This is the first time that the BJP has held the reins of office in Haryana for five years and appears set to retain power in Maharashtra along with its Shiv Sena ally for a second term on the run.

Interestingly, it is after several decades that the BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, has completed a full term in office despite the Maratha chauvinism. The question doing the rounds in the national capital is whether there is an opposition at all at the Centre with the Congress hardly posing a challenge to the ruling party. In the past the major saving grace for the Congress has been the charisma of its leader which united the party to power.

The late Indira Gandhi always coined a catchy slogan catching the imagination of the people combined with her political acumen kept the Congress flock united which did her bidding. Sadly, there is no such leader in their ranks who can be the binding factor in turning things around. At the same time it has become imperative for Congressmen to go through the motions of electing a party president outside the Nehru-Gandhi fold. It might be futile to force the issue revolving around a Gandhi as that proved to be a disaster in the April-May general elections earlier this year.

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty factor has lost its sheen and probably relevance. It has now become a thing of the past. It is high time the Congress elects a party president through the democratic process catapulting a non-Gandhi as the numero uno who might have the capability and drive to turn the tide. It has also become imperative for the party to provide a vision for the future which strengthens unity, nationalism and secularism reflecting the aspirations of the people. And that is no small ask. 

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator.

-By T R Ramachandran