Even after his party’s bad performance in assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and its failure to form governments in Goa and Manipur, Congress leader C P Joshi appeared unfazed before the media on March 16.
And in response to a reporter’s query whether his party would last until the 2019 parliamentary election, he said his party would pose a “formidable challenge” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the next Lok Sabha polls.
By stating this, the Congress leader was apparently trying to infuse hope in demoralised rank-and-file of his party, which is left with governments in Karnataka, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh and now Punjab.
Credit for winning assembly polls in Punjab goes to Captain Amarinder Singh, a scion of royal family of Patiala who has helmed administrative affairs of Punjab in the past also. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who led the charge in the five-state polls in the absence of his ailing mother and party president Sonia Gandhi, failed to cut any ice with electorates.
Despite conducting numerous roadshows and addressing rallies, Rahul Gandhi failed to win over voters. It won a meagre seven seats in Uttar Pradesh, which is its worst ever performance in the state. With this, the spell of defeats that the party is witnessing since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, has now taken a pyramidal shape.
Some party insiders now talk about charting a new roadmap, minus Rahul Gandhi. Never before has this happened in the grand-old party, where Nehru-Gandhi family ruled the roost, but Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh have begun to say that “we want a new Congress, a new charter, a new roadmap, a new style of campaigning.”
This speaks volumes of the crisis affecting the party. Political watchers feel that PM Modi and the BJP’s talks of making the country free from the Congress would prove right, if the party were to further lose elections in Karnataka, Meghalaya and Himachal Pradesh.
They also feel (and fear) that the party risks turning into a regional party if this string of defeat continues unabated.
Has Nehru-Gandhi Family Lost its Charm?
Of the total population in the country, 65 percent is youth (between the ages 18-to-35), which is not only educated but also revenue-earning and mobile and technology savvy. For whom, more than ideology, it is factors such as jobs, development and progress that matter. For whom, the dynastic rule led by Nehru-Gandhi family is no longer influencing and charming as it used to be for their elders in the 1960s, or ’70s, or ’80s.
In Amethi and Raebareli, pocket boroughs of the Nehru-Gandhi family, the party had a dismal performance in the assembly polls. The party lost all ten assembly seats in these two prestigious parliamentary constituencies, indicating clearly that the dynasty politics, per se, will no more hold any influence on electorates.
Indira Gandhi, who nationalised banks in 1969, brought victory for the country in the war of 1971 and made “Gareebi Hatao” a war-cry against poverty, is no more remembered by the youth. Experts say the succeeding generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family after Rajiv Gandhi failed to develop a rapport with the voters.
In this respect, the Congress vice president has proved to be a damp squib; he is not able to have a clear communication with the people. With poor public speaking skills, the 46-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family is always seen as a non-serious player.
Will Congress Take Sharad Pawar’s Support to Take on Modi?
With the Congress leadership not strongly positioned to take on Prime Minister Modi on its own in 2019, back channel efforts are being made to rope in Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar to become the face of opposition in the next parliamentary polls.
The NCP leader has the capacity to bring about opposition unity. Enjoying a good rapport with Lalu Prasad Yadav of the RJD, Nitish Kumar of the JD(U), Mulayam Singh-Akhilesh Yadav of the SP, Mamata Banerjee of the TMC, Karunanidhi-Stalin of the DMK and several other opposition outfits spread across the country, Sharad Pawar can bring some change in the opposition camp.
But, can he become a formidable challenger to PM Modi? It is a million-dollar question, given that Modi has not lost his popularity. Even after the demonetisation drive and its consequent impact on the common man, the BJP juggernaut has rolled on unfettered through the local body polls and state assembly elections.
Rather a victory of the saffron party in the elections held after the November 8 demonetisation move, clearly shows that PM Modi still evokes trust and confidence among electorates.
Defeating PM Modi is the prime task before the opposition. The Congress is trying to create a 2004-like opposition- alliances’-umbrella to take on the saffron party. Armed with data and statistics, the party is trying to develop blocks to challenge PM Modi and the BJP.
However, the question is: With no credible and trustworthy opposition face and demoralised supporters, can the Congress lead the opposition’s charge in the 2019?