After 10 Consecutive State Election Defeats, India's Grand Old Party Hits New Low

© AP Photo / Altaf QadriOpposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi addresses media in presence of leaders from other opposition parties outside Indian parliament in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021
Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi addresses media in presence of leaders from other opposition parties outside Indian parliament in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.03.2022
On Thursday, the election results of five Indian states were announced. Despite its high-octane campaigning, the grand old party Congress could not retain the state of Punjab - formerly a party stronghold where it was the ruling party. The party also failed in four other states. Uttarakhand aside, Congress' vote share and seats have plummeted.
The Indian National Congress' imprint has now shrunk to its smallest showing in the country after it lost Punjab state on Thursday. Its position as the main federal opposition party is also being challenged by the Aam Aadmi (AAP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC) parties.
In the past two years, Congress has ended up on the losing side in nine of the 10 assembly elections held — the exception being Tamil Nadu where it was a junior partner of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance which triumphed.
As of now, Congress is ruling in only two states - Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh - and it is a very small player in the coalition governments in the states of Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
Soon after the election results were out on Thursday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the party "humbly accepts the people's verdict", adding that it "will learn from this and keep working for the interest of the people of India".
The party also announced plans to hold a working committee meeting to analyse the results.
A senior Congress party politician who asked to remain anonymous, says: "We saw it coming. But do party decision-makers care for our views?"
Speaking to Sputnik, he was referring to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her two children - Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Both Rahul and Priyanka are prominent members of Congress and the heirs of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty. Both the siblings made all the decisions regarding the party's campaign and strategy during these five state elections.
The electoral rout also leaves them as just a "family inheritance right" to seek leadership roles in Congress.

Need to Hold Talks Within Party, Not in Close Group

A senior political analyst, Rashid Kidwai, who has also written books on Congress, says: "It's a very tough time for them. Their efforts before the election are falling apart. Gandhis need to examine themselves and face the real issues."
At present the public sees the Gandhis as making all the decisions and then telling the party workers, Kidwai says.
"That's not how you run a party. They need to consult local leaders and workers before making any decision," Kidwai stresses.
"For example, four months before the election, Rahul Gandhi removed Captain Amarinder Singh from the Punjab state chief post and brought in a new state chief. That's not right. They did not consult any Punjab state politician before making the decision," Kidwai says.

Congress - House of Dissent and Upset Politicians

A group of 23 dissenting Congress politicians, including veterans of the party, wrote a letter to the party chief Sonia Gandhi, demanding sweeping changes and "visible and effective leadership" within the party in August 2020.
But their suggestions were ignored and Sonia Gandhi did not even convene a meeting with these senior members.
Many former state chiefs and federal ministers left the party citing the prevailing leadership crisis in the Congress party.
"No attempts were being made to stop any politician from leaving the party," says senior analyst Shekhar Iyer.
Every time someone resigned from Congress, the party released a statement branding the person as an opportunist or worthless, Iyer said.
"The BJP is not naive and was prepared to welcome these departing leaders and sometimes even offer a federal ministerial berth," Iyer stresses.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left Congress in 2020, is now a federal minister.
"I contacted Sonia Gandhi by letter. She chose not to reply and, instead, suspended me. Today, Congress is at its worst place in the state. Priyanka and Rahul are to be blamed," he says, adding that "Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will destroy Congress in Uttar Pradesh".

An Immediate Change in Leadership is Essential

As the Congress party has had no full-time party president since 2019 since Rahul Gandhi resigned as the party chief, a section of experts also feel that it has created a very negative public perception.
At present, Sonia Gandhi is serving as interim Congress president.
"Gandhi doesn't want to shoulder the responsibility. At the same time, the Gandhi family doesn't want to transfer power. Before 1998, this was not the custom of the grand old party," Kidwai said.
Until 1998, Congress had 13 non-Gandhi party presidents.
By the end of 2022, elections in three more Indian states - Karnataka, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh - are due to be held. It would be interesting to see whether Congress can revive itself and learn from its old setbacks or whether it remains in ignorance and continues to live with its head in the clouds.
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