The Congress need not get worked up over opinion polls. This is for the simple reason that such polls don’t alter its existential reality dramatically, and the reality could be worse than what the pre-poll surveys suggest. If the party is actually aware of the state of wreck of its organizational architecture across the country, it would be better off rebuilding it on a war footing rather than criticizing surveys. But it appears to be in denial.
Losing elections is no big deal, but the speed at which the organization absorbs the shock and revives itself for the next battle is the true measure of resilience for a political party. The Congress has stopped being resilient. Consider this: in Uttar Pradesh, it has been out of power for over two decades; in Gujarat, it last won a majority nearly three decades ago; in Bihar, regional parties have been calling shots since 1990, reducing the Congress to a marginal presence; and it has lost Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Punjab and West Bengal, where the chances of recovery are bleak. If it loses in Madhya Pradesh this time, it would be a 15-year wait before it tries it luck again.
The pattern is clear. Wherever the Congress loses, it just collapses. While there has been a ring of inevitability in the party’s decline across the country - rapid regionalisation of the Indian polity beginning 1967 and the consequent splintering of the party; and the politics of Mandal and Mandir in 1990s virtually delivered the death blow to its catchall survival trick - the absence of efforts to cultivate new constituencies or reviving the old ones is intriguing.
It lost the Muslims between 1986 and 1989, thanks to Rajiv Gandhi’s bizarre approach to the Ram Mandir issue. It lost the middle castes after the emergence of the Samajwadi Party in UP and Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar. The Dalits flocked to Mayawati in UP and away from the Congress to smaller parties elsewhere, while the upper castes gravitated towards the BJP. It now holds no appeal for any caste or community constituency.
Add to that the party’s strong aversion to strong regional leaders and the overwhelming tendency towards centralization. That makes any hope of quick revival of the Congress unrealistic. Worse, the party has not even started thinking about building a social coalition to support its cause. That is one of the reasons why the more Rahul Gandhi speaks of change in the party, the more unconvincing he sounds. Without a social agenda or at least a social engineering formula to work upon, the party’s organization loses direction. Caste or community-based voter mobilisation may appear distasteful in a healthy democracy, but it’s an Indian reality difficult to ignore.
The Congress, obviously, is not given to introspection or self-criticism. Had it been the case, it would have read the writing on the wall much earlier and started working on its weaknesses. Rahul Gandhi has just begun getting the organizational architecture in place. But it might take long for him to find the right men to provide local-level leadership. It is a huge challenge given it’s not easy to jettison the deadwood from a system surviving on an arrangement of personal loyalties, patronage and networked vested interest, and infuse fresh blood.
If it works in the right earnest, the Congress would take at least half a decade more to be a fighting fit organization. The BJP does not have a similar problem, at least at this point, since the whole Sangh Parivar provides it a solid organizational network. For now, the Grand Old Party should bear with the opinion polls with some grace and dignity and start the rebuild effort. It should be reminded that there were such polls in 2004 and 2009 too, and still it managed to surprise all. That could happen in case of the assembly elections too. Opinion polls are good entertainment; they hardly impact people’s choice. If you feel that’s the case, then you are clearly short of confidence.
Updated Date: Nov 04, 2013 15:07:45 IST