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Whither Congress?

Obsessed with the demand for it to be granted the position of Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha, the Congress seems oblivious to the fact that as an organisation it is not quite positioned to provide opposition to the BJP juggernaut. The very fact that the Chief Ministers of Haryana and Maharashtra were jeered by the very same crowds which cheered Prime Minister Modi, brings into stark relief the utter lack of organisational ability in India’s Grand Old Party.

The BJP cadres have been “blamed” for the two incidents. In an election year it is the bounden duty of party cadre to bolster their party’s image and sully the position of other parties. If, in the Congress-ruled states, party cadres could not handle the BJP’s filibustering, then the less said about the party’s ability to mobilise public opinion, the better. Instead of gloating over small gains in the byelections, the Congress would do well to ponder the larger question: Is it in a position to act as a nationwide opposition party and regain its eminence?

Since the elevation of Amit Shah as the BJP President, the Sangh Parivar has been acting in tandem to grow in strength. Take the example of Jammu & Kashmir where elections are due this year-end. According to reports, while the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is spreading its shakha network and starting new schools, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) is concentrating on educational institutions, including school students. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) is focusing on anganwadi workers while the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is also busy spreading its network.

Jammu & Kashmir is not the only State from where feverish organisational work by Sangh volunteers is being reported. In West Bengal, Muslims are joining the BJP in large numbers. In a State known for inter-party violence for decades now, the number of clashes between the BJP and the Trinamool cadres today outnumbers the skirmishes the Trinamool has with the Left and Congress workers. With elections due in West Bengal in 2017, the BJP is trying to occupy the principal opposition space, overtaking the Left and the residual Congress party. The local body elections in West Bengal, due in early 2016, may have a surprise in store for Mamata Banerjee.

Shah has similar plans for Tamil Nadu, in tandem with the existing BJP allies in the State. If all goes well, the composition of the 17 Assemblies which are going to be elected over the next three years will be such that by 2018, a year before the next general election, the BJP may have achieved its own majority in the Rajya Sabha as well (now it has 61 of the 245 seats).

The post byelection euphoria and the counter slogan of ‘BJP Mukt Bharat’ has to be viewed in the above context. The pendulum has swung to the other extreme now anti-Congressism is giving way to anti-BJP alignments. But these alignments are not being forged between friends. Former enemies, who each carry formidable baggage, are coming together to battle the BJPs organisational skills.

It is a new India which has voted for Modi. And the BJP has responded to the mandate by giving a new-look, younger, party organisation. Arun Jaitley’s recent statement that “surnames do not matter in politics anymore”, has to be interpreted and understood. By keeping the progeny of senior leaders away from the swearing-in ceremony on May 26, Modi had given the first hint. Jaitley has made it a clarion call. Political workers will be recognised for their merit, and not lineage, is the clear message.

A significant decision taken by the Modi-Shah combine is that only one member of a family will be given an important position at a time. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s son, Pankaj, was denied a assembly bypoll ticket; Varun Gandhi too was dropped as office-bearer under this formula. Some BJP stalwarts have traded offers for Governorship to ensure their progeny get adjusted.

Will the Congress be able to move away from the surname syndrome? The AK Antony report on the poll debacle shows that, even in grief, instead of finding the root of the malaise, the party thinks that the tide can be turned by singing “Hallelujah”. The Congress has to realise that with 44 Lok Sabha seats it is perhaps headed to emerge as a political force in India like the UK’s Liberal Party, which comes to power only by the quirk of numbers in a coalition.

The very fact that Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary on August 20 was celebrated by the Mahila Congress sans any signs by other Congress frontal organisations, is testimony to the chasm in the party. And the sabre-rattling by nominated Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar that “Modi will be pushed to the sea on the Gujarat coast” exemplifies the dystopia the Congress is suffering from.

The author is a former Editor of Sunday and The National Herald. He also held various editorial positions in The Times of India, Hindustan Times and The Tribune.

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