The 2014 general elections saw the Congress party reduced to its worst ever tally of seats in the Lok Sabha (‘Is there any hope for Congress in India?,’ Gulf News, November 12). Thereafter, the Congress continued to fair poorly and was voted out of power in the assembly elections held in Maharashtra and Haryana. The electoral debacles haven’t managed to dampen the enthusiasm of Congress’s Mani Shankar Aiyar.
He said: “In 1999, we were in power in only five states. Today, we have eight states. This shows that there is enough scope for the Congress to bounce back.” He cites the example of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise in national polity from a meagre count of two seats to suggest that the highs and lows are a part of politics.
But, another worrying factor for the Congress is the rapid manner in which it has lost the Muslim vote. The assembly elections in Maharashtra saw Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (MIM) win two seats and emerge as a challenger for the Muslim vote for the Congress. Rejecting Congress’s politics of minority appeasement, Rasheed Kidwai simultaneously labels MIM’s debut in Maharashtra as a “failure of Nehruvian ideas of secularism”. But Aiyar stresses that there is electoral space for parties like MIM.
Though these demands only reflect the dynastic nature of the party and the inability of the Congress to look for a leader beyond the Gandhis, loyalists like Aiyar argue that the Gandhi family is the adhesive force, keeping the party together and that they are the biggest crowd puller.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been acknowledged as India’s newest rock star by Forbes Magazine, the Congress party is facing its toughest challenge since independence. What remains to be seen is whether the Congress manages to put its own house in order and challenge the overwhelmingly right wing atmosphere in the country, which has led to recurrent sectarian skirmishes ever since the new government took charge.
(This article was originally published in Gulf News.)