Fall And Decline
- Maharashtra disaster shows Congress’s failure to pick up the pieces after the Lok Sabha defeat
- Narendra Modi’s promise of a “Congress-free India” looms large over grand old party
- Irrigation scam in Maharashtra under Ajit Pawar of NCP and the albatross of Robert Vadra in Haryana weighed heavily for Congress
- Rahul Gandhi’s continuing inability to achieve any kind of traction among voters spells a leadership crisis
- Breakdown of old identity markers under the Modi blitz means Congress needs a complete policy overhaul
A Congressman quotes the Bhagwad Gita: “To Karma (action) alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.” Long-standing members of the grand old party are in a philosophical mood: when things get this bad, they can only get better, says one. There is no future, so we must laugh at our predicament and seek detachment, says another. There is talk of Rahul Gandhi going to cyclone-affected Andhra Pradesh. “He has to face both natural calamities and electoral disasters,” quips a veteran.
There is a difference in magnitude between being broke and going bust. There is quite a new dimension to the party’s predicament following the projected defeats in Maharashtra and Haryana. Politically, the party has never in its history been so diminished, now reduced to power in five relatively small states—Kerala, Karnataka, Assam, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Earlier this year it lost another big bastion, the former Andhra Pradesh, now divided into two states. Its national vote has shrunk; its bases are receding. Most ominously, there is no potential for growth anywhere.
In this scenario, just months after the Lok Sabha defeat, the significance of losing Haryana and Maharashtra cannot be overstated. The latter is both the nation’s third largest state and the home of big industry. Haryana is tiny in comparison, but beginning on the periphery of the national capital, it is one of the most valuable real estate stretches in the country. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who led the Congress there, was a master player in the game of quid pro quo and influence-peddling (something that his counterpart in Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, was not). Hooda apparently knew exactly how to keep important citizens of Delhi happy: by giving them real estate in Haryana at throwaway prices. He did so with the Gandhi damaad Robert Vadra, who so famously (and quickly) acquired land in Hooda’s Haryana. Vadra may never be criminally liable, but the shadow of that get-rich-quick deal will never quite go away from the larger questions about the Congress’s first family. The best thing Vadra has going for him is the fact that the ruling class, which includes the BJP, is uneasy with any punishment for spurious land deals in the age of crony capitalism that expose the nexus between politicians and builders.
What is clear is that the Congress high command will be suing for bankruptcy following the defeat in Haryana and Mahrashtra. Losing incumbent chief ministers in both states will add to the pervading sense of gloom around the party. As it is, party leaders complain that midway through the general elections, the high command decided to save its resources after a decade in power. As long as the government was picking up the tab for the Bharat Nirman advertisements, it appeared that the Congress was going for the jugular. But when it came to the party opening its own coffers, it backed out. At some point, they say, the Congress top brass took the decision not to invest resources in states where the going looked tough. Promised funds did not reach Congressmen fighting with their backs to the wall. Even in this round of elections, no finances came from the headquarters. Candidates were expected to raise their own funds.
Logically, a political party that has ruled India for most of its history should have deep coffers. But economic accountability in Indian politics has always been suspect and there is, frankly, no transparency in money matters. Since one of the common models is for a party to be a crowd around a family (as the Congress is), presumably the first family and its retainers would have their hands on the purse too. Also, in the states where the Congress is still in power, it is unlikely that the local leaderships will be too inclined to donate generously to a discredited national dynasty and structure. Fundamentally, it will be each man and woman for him/herself in the wilderness that is now the Congress.
The BJP, meanwhile, would have struck gold if the results go on the lines predicted by the exit polls. Traditionally, Maharashtra was a big revenue source for the BJP in the years 1995 to 2000 when a Shiv Sena-BJP regime ruled the state. The late Pramod Mahajan was the principal fund-raiser during those years of growth for the party. Based in Mumbai, Mahajan’s connections with big industry ran deep. Besides that, he understood well the old RSS model of collecting from a committed base of shopkeepers. He once told this correspondent that his RSS roots helped him understand the basis of collective funding. Yet, in a sense, it was Sharad Pawar who was the role model that he emulated (Pawar’s NCP now seems poised for a poll debacle).
Eventually, Narendra Modi would capture Gujarat in 2001 and then gradually emerge as the biggest source of BJP’s funding, particularly after the NDA lost power in 2004 (Mahajan himself would pass away tragically in May 2006). None of the other BJP regimes was in areas of such economic growth as Gujarat was in the past two decades. Presuming that Maharashtra falls into their kitty, the Delhi-Mumbai economic corridor should certainly take off. The potential for growth of the BJP lies in every future state election, from Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir late this year or early next year, to Bihar later in 2015. Though assembly elections to Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are some distance away, the challenge to the BJP there comes from entrenched regional players.
And the Congress? The organisational and leadership paralysis has eaten away at its vitals. As such, it does not seem relevant when the electoral arithmetic for the immediate future is added up.