The more things change, the more they remain the same - certainly in the Congress party. The party has decided to set up yet another committee to look into its rout in the recent round of assembly elections. Interim party chief Sonia Gandhi told the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party's apex decision-making body, that she expected senior party leaders from Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bengal and Puducherry to explain why the party had performed so poorly.
This is not the first time that the party chief has commissioned such an exercise. In the aftermath of the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle, a similar exercise was undertaken by a committee headed by veteran party leader AK Antony. Little is known of its findings or its recommendations. A similar exercise was undertaken again after the 2019 polls, but nothing has changed in the functioning of the party to suggest that any lessons were learnt.
The party certainly has a lot to worry about. In the past seven years, out of a total of 39 state assembly elections, it has won only five assembly elections on its own. Its performance in the states that went to the polls recently was downright poor. In Assam, its audacious gamble of aligning with the AUDF failed to prevent the BJP from coming back to power; and in Puducherry, it failed in its bid to retain the government. In Kerala, it failed to build on the promise of its performance of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections where it won 15 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats from the state. Not only did it fail to prevent the LDF from forming the government for a second consecutive term, but for the first time in several decades, its showing was as poor as landing 21 of the 140 assembly seats. This despite a vigorous campaign by Rahul Gandhi.
In West Bengal, it had to face the ignominy of not winning a single assembly seat, taking the tally of states where the once mighty party has no representation at all to six - Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Tripura, Nagaland, Sikkim, and now Bengal. The only consolation for the party to chew on was the fact that it was a part of the winning alliance in Tamil Nadu.
Apart from its dismal electoral record, what appears to worry the average the Congress worker is the seeming inability of its leaders to learn from their mistakes and apply correctives. Though two years have passed since Rahul Gandhi resigned as President, he continues to call the shots. The party has failed in persuading him to take up the responsibility once again, and in finding a replacement. Sonia Gandhi continues interim chief. The situation is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon with the party having decided at today's session to postpone the elections that were slated for June 23 to elect the new party chief and members of the CWC.
So far, the 'G-23 rebel' have kept their powder dry after the election results with leaders liked Ghulam Nabi Azad stressing that what the party needs right now is unity.
The ground is slipping rapidly from under the Congress party's feet. Its political footprint across the country has shrunk even further, and it is in power on its own only in Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The party is no longer in a position to deal with its allies from a position of strength, with allies like the DMK now dictating terms when it comes to seat-sharing.
The first signs of restiveness amongst allies have begun to appear. Lalu Yadav's RJD and Sharad Pawar's NCP rallied behind Mamata Banerjee during the West Bengal polls even though the Congress was contesting the state elections in alliance with the Left parties.
For a party that once ruled the length and breadth of the country, the Congress appears to have forgotten how to win elections. The party's dismal showing has coincided with the rise and emergence of regional parties and leaders like Mamata Banerjee. In 2004 and subsequent general election, the Congress continued to be the core around which anti-BJP forces coalesced. That situation could change now. The Congress, given its dismal electoral performance, can no longer claim the right to lead the Opposition challenge to Modi in 2024. Mamata Banerjee, by virtue of being a three-time Chief Minister, has emerged as a powerful claimant to that position.
Sonia Gandhi was extremely forthright in her opening remarks saying that "the results clearly tell us that we need to put our house in order". It will require a lot more than mere plain speaking for the party to come out of the situation it finds itself in.
(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst.)
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