Success has many fathers and mothers, but election failure continues to be a bastard

The recent state election results have clearly brought the focus back on the decline of the Congress as a potent political force and its very survival as a pan-Indian entity. The same issues had been fiercely debated in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 when the Congress put on its worst performance in its own electoral history since Independence — a party that had won a three-fourth majority 30 years ago could not even secure a tenth of the seats in the Lok Sabha, to legitimately claim the status of the leader of the Opposition.

Clearly, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has been the guiding force of the Congress is in the line of fire.

Many commentators and political leaders have demanded the resignation of the dynasts (Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi) before the revival of the Congress could even be a matter of contemplation. If these two leaders persist in their position, then Congress-mukt Bharat (India sans the Congress) — Narendra Modi’s clarion call in the run-up to the last Lok Sabha elections — is going to be a reality, they say.

File image of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. PTI

File image of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. PTI

The leader must take responsibility and resign after a resounding defeat — that is a standard practice in the democracies in the West. Take the case of England, the mother of democracies, inspired by which India’s parliamentary system has evolved. It has a practice that a leader, howsoever, charismatic, will have to put in his or her papers, in the event of the party’s defeat in the General Elections. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, who could not lead the party to power in the 2015 elections promptly resigned. Had David Cameron not powered the Tory party back to power, he would have resigned as prime minister as well as the party leader. A charismatic Tory prime minister such as Margaret Thatcher had to step aside when the party began to wobble under her leadership; the same thing happened to Tony Blair, a three-term Labour prime minister.

But, unfortunately, Indian political leaders have not followed this tradition; they have clung on to their party positions even after the most disastrous electoral performances — and, this is a reality with regard to not only the Congress party. Almost all party leaders, whether belonging to a national party or a regional party — whether of the Rightist or Leftist persuasion — have stuck to the leadership role even in the face of the electoral adversities.

In the post-Independence era, the Congress party emerged as the harbinger of a one-party dominant State for the first two decades. In 1967, the invincibility of the Congress was put to rest when non-Congress governments were voted to power in six states — Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Punjab, Kerala and the then Madras. There was a murmur for the resignation of Indira Gandhi, the prime minister and the Congress leader, under whose ‘feeble’ leadership the party suffered reverses in the states.

Indira only took note of the party’s decline and promised to work hard to bring back glory to the party. She succeeded in 1971 when she won a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha and subsequently reclaimed victory in most of the states she had lost in 1967.

But then six years later, in 1977, she faced the worst electoral setback of her lifetime: Congress was virtually wiped out north of the Vindhyas — Indira herself lost the election, so did her son, Sanjay. But still, she refused to accept personal responsibility for the party's electoral debacle and resign. To her credit, she guided the party back to a spectacular victory at the polls just three years later.

Rajiv Gandhi came to power riding the crest of the sympathy vote after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, winning the best-ever electoral victory for the Congress in post-Independence India (a three-fourth majority in the Lok Sabha and more than 50 percent of the popular vote). But five years down the line, in 1989, he led the Congress to an ignominious defeat, dogged by the Bofors scandal. Rajiv also did not accede to the clamour of resignation; like his mother, he vowed to bring back the lost glory again. But, sadly, he too was assassinated two years later.

Sonia, Rajiv’s widow, took up the mantle (as his children were too young for the leadership role then) to steer the Congress ship seven years after Rajiv’s death and she continues to do it today.

Under her stewardship, the Congress lost the general election to the BJP-led NDA in 1999 but, to the surprise of many, she guided the Congress back to power in 2004 and again in 2009. However, she had to face the ignominy of presiding over the worst-ever electoral performance of the Congress in 2014 (in the 1977 avalanche, the party’s southern bastion had remained intact, but in 2014, the loss was pan-India).

There were strong clamours for Sonia and her son Rahul, who has been increasingly taking charge of the party in the recent years, to resign and pave the way for the leadership position to be handed to other capable leaders. But predictably that did not happen. Now the same clamour has reached a crescendo again with the drubbing the party has received in the recent state elections.
But the Congress leaders, who did not flinch from giving credit to Sonia for the party’s victory in 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections and to Rahul for the party’s success in the Bihar elections, are now shying away from blaming the top leadership for the electoral reverses.

“It is a collective responsibility”, they say.

Predictably, Sonia and Rahul have scotched the very thought of resignation.

But then such defiance to the call of resignation in times of electoral disaster is not confined to Nehru-Gandhis alone. Take the case of the regional parties that have taken the Congress cue in installing dynastic leadership: Mulayam Singh Yadav did not resign when the Samajwadi Party faced a humiliating defeat in the 2007 polls; nor did Lalu Yadav when his party, the Rastriya Janata Dal, faced near-extinction in the 2010 Bihar Assembly elections. Sharad Pawar, M Karunanidhi, Ram Vilas Paswan — name any dynast who has given up leadership position in the party in the face of the electoral reversal.

Even a non-dynastic party like the CPM did not respond to the call for the resignation of Prakash Karat under whose leadership the party suffered a colossal defeat in its erstwhile fortress in West Bengal in 2011 and under whose watch the party’s number of MPs in the Lok Sabha shrunk over a decade.

Take also the case of the BJP, which is on the ascendant mode as a national party, and has a non-dynastic leadership. The party won a spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The party leaders fell over each other in giving the credit to Narendra Modi’s dynamic leadership. When the BJP came up trumps in the state elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana, Amit Shah, the party president, termed it as a referendum on the Modi government.


But when the party was decimated in the Delhi state elections (the party was dreaming of forming the government as it had won all seven seats of Delhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but it managed to win just three of the 70 seats in the state legislature), the very same Shah came up with the ruse that the Assembly elections were fought on local issues and the state election outcome had nothing to do with the Central leadership or the performance of the Central government.

When the BJP again lost the election in Bihar in November 2015 (where it had won 31 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats barely 18 months earlier, where the prime minister had addressed 30 rallies and where Shah had personally decided tickets for each individual seat), the party’s four marginalised senior leaders demanded fixing of responsibility for the party’s defeat. Arun Jaitley came to the defence of Modi and Shah: Dirst, Bihar election was no referendum on the Modi government as all state elections were fought on local issues. Second, winning and losing elections were part of the game. The party collectively wins and collectively loses, Jaitley said.

But as soon as the Assam victory became public, Shah attributed the success to Modi: "Victory in Assam and the encouraging show in other four states is a 'stamp on the performance of the Modi government'," he said.

Clearly, sycophants are not confined to any single party; they abound across the political divide.

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Updated Date: May 23, 2016 10:40:37 IST

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