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FAULTY STRATEGY OF CONGRESS: The need to adjust with times

Paper No.207                        06.03.2001

by R.Upadhyay

It is sad to see the once mighty Congress getting marginalised.  In the past the party was led by giants whose integrity and sincerity were unquestionable.  Today it is led by pygmies and worse still, the party has not moved with times but is living on its past glory. Will the congress switch over from its "self destructive mode?" Director

The headquarters of All India Congress Committee at 24 Akbar Road, New Delhi is now packed with a new team of working committee members and office bearers under the presidentship of Sonia Gandhi. But there is hardly anything worth noticeable here that could rejuvenate the party cadres to save it from the present state of marginalisation. The immediate task before the party is to plan a strategy for the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The sole aim as of now, appears to be to prevent the expansion of the base of the BJP-led NDA even if it leads to its own humiliation and marginalisation.

In West Bengal the Congress is once again split, as the central leadership did not allow the state unit of the party to join the Mamta Banerjee-led front inclusive of the BJP against the Left Front. In Tamil Nadu, the Party is to sacrifice its number one position in Pondicherry if it joins the AIADMK led front even at the cost of accepting the humiliating offer of a very limited number of seats. It cannot join the DMK-led front in which the BJP is also a partner. The Congress is so obsessed with BJP that the party is now getting isolated in both the states. It has not yet realised the political ground reality that the country has entered into an era of coalition Government in which no political party is an untouchable.

With one-party rule at centre for almost 40 years since the first general election in the country in 1952, the Congress leaders have developed a mindset that is not attuned to the coalition politics of the day. Unwilling to be flexible in the ongoing changes in the political environment of the country, they continue to dream of a one party Congress led government.

Enthused with party’s victory in M.P., Rajasthan and Delhi assembly elections in 1998, the Congress leadership in its eagerness to rejuvenate and revitalise the organisation made a declaration in Pachmarhi that the Party will not have any electoral alliance with regional or smaller parties. This exercise was said to be a reflection of the supreme confidence in itself and the one-party rule mind set. The overconfident Congress leadership committed mistakes in devising  a viable strategy at national and state level separately for coalition governments.

The bottom line of the electoral strategy planned by the successive leadership of the Congress centred round its strong reservations against the forces of Hindutva. The party leadership therefore continues to maintain its policy to have no truck with the BJP directly or indirectly. Secondly, it also considered the Communists as its "natural allies" even though the latter always used the Congress only to advance their own political interests without any reciprocity. The hidden idea behind this strategy was to maintain the monopoly of the party on Muslim votes and to take the help of the communists at times of crisis.

Till the BJS and its subsequent incarnation the BJP was a smaller party along with other national parties, the Congress could manage a single party rule at centre. The fragmented character of the opposition parties on one hand made the Congress leadership authoritarian, and on the other led to its distancing from the grassroots of the party. Gradually, the support base of the Congress started eroding and by the closing decade of the twentieth century, it lost its dominance at national level.

Taking advantage of the Left-centric policy of the Congress, the communists with the help of their fellow travelers in media easily established their hold in a number of government--sponsored institutions and infiltrated their men in the Congress to influence the political strategies of the party to a great extent. Besides, by stretching the issue of Hindu communalism beyond a point, the Congress was seen to be an anti-Hindu party. This paid political dividends to the BJP, which gradually pushed the Congress to the second position.

With its obsession of the BJP and under the influence of the Leftists, the Congress preferred to give outside support to the non-BJP Governments at centre in 1990, 1996 and 1998 under the leadership of Chandrashekhar, Devegowda and Gujral respectively. Instead of bargaining to lead the non-BJP coalition government at centre, the Congress strategists committed the blunder repeatedly in giving outside support to the regional and smaller parties to form the government. These smaller and regional parties for whom the Congress was the main challenger in their respective states, succeeded in establishing firm roots after sharing power at the centre. It was all at the cost of the Congress. Now it has become very difficult for the Congress to retrieve its lost ground from them.

Had the Congress taken the initiative to form the so called "secular" coalition government under its leadership and bargained for the support of the communists and regional parties, the leftists would have been exposed. This would have also placed both the communists and the regional parties at receiving end, as the blame for the failure of forming such government would have been on them. But allowing the formation of  minority governments and withdrawing its support repeatedly on flimsy grounds adversely affected the image of the Congress. The blame for the failure of the non-BJP governments to meet the aspirations of the people was therefore, put on the shoulders of the Congress because it did not allow these governments to run for a reasonable period.

Taking lessons from past experience, the Congress rightly took a firm stand in 1999 to form a coalition Government at the centre after the fall of Vajpayee Government on the floor of the House. As expected, the smaller and regional parties did not support the Congress. If the Congress had discussed and bargained for an alternative government it it could have avoided the embarrassment caused after the fall of Vajpayee government.

Reliance on communists could not help the Congress to form a coalition Government at centre and its strength in the Lok-Sabha further receded in 1999 midterm polls. Ironically, most of the regional and smaller parties, which had earlier formed the government at centre with outside support of the Congress on the slogan of removing the "communal" BJP from power became the latter’s partners in the NDA during this poll.  Failure in formulating a viable electoral strategy by the Congress helped the BJP to improve its performance in states like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, where the party had insignificant influence. The strength of the NDA also improved due to increase in the strength of the regional and smaller parties at the cost of the Congress. 

The growth of the regional parties in states and the BJP at national level has pushed the Congress to an unenviable situation in states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Contrary to party’s Pachmarhi declaration, it is now turning helplessly towards the regional parties and the communists for its survival in these states. Instead of understanding the political game of the communists and other non-NDA regional parties, it is again found playing into their hands as far as its electoral strategy for assembly elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu is concerned. With its anti- BJP and pro-Left strategy, the party is now placed in a no-win situation in the fast-growing pre-election scenario in these two states. Instead of formulating a strategy for advancing the interests of the party, the Congress High Command was found more interested to advance the interest of the Communists in West Bengal and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. The only satisfaction of the Congress with this approach is to harm the prospects of Mamta led combine in West Bengal and DMK led front in Tamil Nadu with a sole objective to weaken the BJP-led NDA. The loss of the NDA however, is hardly going to benefit the Congress politically in either state.

In the absence of a dynamic strategy the Congress with its left-centric character and obsession against the BJP beyond a point is found suffering from stagnation. Without being pragmatic in politics, which is the need of the hour, no political party is capable of winning an election in the present era of coalition, where ideology hardly plays any role. Casteism and communalism are two sides of the same coin. The strategy of joining hands with casteist forces in Bihar, regional forces in Tamil Nadu and keeping distance from the BJP due to its obsession against communalism does not fit into any sound ideological frame. So long as the Congress does not move with the on going political change and formulate its policies according to the ground reality for advancing the interests of the party, it may not be possible to overcome its present plight.