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The slow and steady demise of Indian National Congress

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Congress is a ‘sinking ship’; many of us have heard that by now. The history of Congress ran in parallel almost with the history of India herself, to an extent where the line between the histories of these two seemed to get blurred.

Leaders of Congress were leaders of India and a large part of Indian Freedom Movement owed its existence to this “grand old party”, which was not just a political party, but was like an umbrella organization where different schools of thought used to co-exist together.

From Gandhi to Jinnah, from Nehru to Bose, from Tilak to Gokhale, Congress had people with ideologies poles apart from each other. And yet, it was one party which went on to define the ‘political system’ in India. So much so, that a term ‘Congress System’ was coined by Dr. Rajani Kothari. The organizational structure of Congress was so deep rooted and entrenched that it made the party reach to the ground level, to the last man standing, as a part of Gandhian idealism.

But, Congress couldn’t follow up these ideals of working on the ground for as long as people of India wanted it do. Much of the Congress dominance in center as well as state was due to the fact that people voted in the name of Congress, which won freedom for the country. People felt almost indebted to the party and continued to bring back them to power in the hope that ‘Swarajya’ would actually be realized at the ground and the days of ‘Ram Rajya’ would come, which Gandhi used to mention in his speeches and writings.

People waited for years but neither ‘Swarajya’ came, nor ‘Ram Rajya’ could be realized, what was realized by people that ‘nepotism’ and ‘corruption’ was increasing day by day in our political system leading its way to bureaucracy. It was not ‘Ram Rajya’, it was the Raaj of one family- The Gandhi family, which gave 3 prime ministers to India who ruled the country for around 37 years, while another 10 years in 21st century was also lead by this family.

Slowly, the Congress System started to deteriorate, but it took around a decade for a non-congress party to come into power in a state. Kerala did the honors, when Left was voted to power in the 1957 legislative assembly elections. EMS Namboodripad became the first democratically elected communist leader, though Congress was still a huge force to reckon with.

But things were about to change tremendously against the Congress specially in the heartlands of India, where people were now looking for an alternative. They were angry with the false promises made by Congressmen in election after election. The first jolt to the Congress came, when Jawaharlal Nehru died in 1964. Everyone in Congress was asking only one question, “Who after Nehru?” Nehru was the tallest national leader of the party and India itself, his death created a vacuum in the political space which he had been acquiring for the last 17 years since the independence of the country. Luckily, Congress had Lal Bahadur Shastri to offer as India’s second Prime Minister, but not for long. He died suspiciously at Tashkent in 1966.

With the death of two prime ministers in quick succession, Congress party which was able to win constituencies just on the charisma of its tall leaders, couldn’t do so now, at least at the regional level. The fight within the party was increasing and there came the 1967 elections. Here, the picture changed radically after the Indian electorate had voted in the fourth general elections held from February 15 to 22 this year. Of the 16 states, only eight returned Congress to power with absolute majorities in the state legislatures.

Equally bad was the rout of Congress’ top leadership. Seven members of Mrs. Gandhi’s cabinet at the Center were defeated. This included two top leaders of Congress which were: Mr. Kamaraj and Atulya Ghosh of West Bengal, both of whom had been defeated. So had been the Presidents of Congress party organizations in 6 states and the Chief Ministers in 4 states. Congress was clearly losing its touch, as the party started showing the first signs of break. The party got divided into many factions like Indian National Congress (I), Indian National Congress (o), Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Utkal Congress and Bangla Congress. Many of these factions later got defunct as they merged with Janata Party later during the emergency.

Indira Gandhi, who was referred mockingly as ‘Goongi Gudiya’, emerged as a strong and decisive leader, under whose leadership India won a decisive war against Pakistan in 1971. The war resulted in Congress reclaiming its place as the most dominant player in the Indian political system, so much so, that its power became increasingly unchecked. In a democracy, the unchecked power of the government by other institutions like legislature, executive and media is quite problematic.

India realized this late when on the midnight of 26th June 1975, emergency was proclaimed in the country by the Indira Government, thereby suspending all democratic rights of people and concentrating all the power in the hands of Indira Gandhi. This was done to subvert the decision given against Indira Gandhi by Allahabad High Court Bench in the case of fraudulent electoral practices in 1971 elections.

Emergency was the darkest period in India’s independent history, where the government had become authoritarian, opposition was decimated as most political opponents were put behind bars; press was under extreme censorship etc. The 19th month emergency proved to be costly for Congress, as for the first time a non-congress government was formed at the center. Though, the new government couldn’t stay for 5 years in power, but that period was definitely a paradigm shift in Indian politics.

Both people and political parties started believing that there can be an alternative to the Congress. Though, it took another two decades after Janata government for a non-Congress party i.e. BJP to come to power and stay for a full 5 year term.

Congress made a comeback again in quite an astonishing fashion by defeating the incumbent BJP in power and stay for the next decade fully at the center. This decade, especially the second half was marred by corruption. Telecom, railways, coal, land, sports and various other ministries name were tarred under the charges of corruption. A popular resentment against the regime was prevalent among the public due to the increasing corruption within the government and the party’s inability to take any affirmative action against it.

Even the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s image was of a weak leader, who couldn’t act tough on the corrupt members within the party and the government. As a result, the party lost pathetically in the 2014 general elections where its tally of seats went to 44 in the house of 543 seats, an all-time low. Since then, the party hasn’t settled yet. It has been losing elections after elections across many states in India.

The recent loss was in Uttar Pradesh, the highest populated state in India, where the party got just 7 seats in an assembly of 403 seats. Most political observers are of the opinion that Congress lack a genuine mass leader, which it used to have in dozens in its glorious days. Now, the situation is so bad that the vice-president of the party Rahul Gandhi has been laughing stock of the town due to his lack of leadership skills resulting in his inability to win elections.

To sum up, the party has lost its sheen and doesn’t look in a position to even throw a challenge to the current BJP regime in the 2019 general elections. If they manage to do so, they would be pulling rabbit out of a hat! The demise of Congress means the demise of a balanced political system in India. Congress and BJP used to balance off each other in Indian politics, being the two most dominant parties. With this balance being lost, the earlier ‘Congress System’ is being replaced by a newly emergent ‘BJP System’.

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