The Indian National Congress was born four years before Nehru was born. A life history that long—edging close to 135 years, almost double of independent India’s—is bound to have been studded with moments of grave existential doubt. And yet, each inflection point, to the surprise of believer and critic alike, has yielded a second life. At least till now. A set of five assembly elections may seem a trifling affair when seen against this grand canvas of death and rebirth. But the script is thinning out. The party has just 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha, a still-untested president is at the helm, and there’s a rampaging BJP to contend with. Its ruling motto—to eradicate the Congress, like it was some pre-modern disease—always looks close to fruition these days. Way before the epic showdown of summer 2019, therefore, the semi-final of 2018 may signal a kind of sudden death.
No signs of survival panic are visible, however, anywhere on the precincts of 24, Akbar Road. The Congress headquarters, ensconced in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, is buzzing with activity. The manicured lawns are overrun by ticket-seekers from the poll-bound states, and sundry hangers-on. Senior leaders seated in the inner chambers insist they haven’t seen such enthusiasm among party workers in a long time. The optimism is welling up from the ground, they say—a sense that the party’s fortunes are on an upswing.