As the results of the latest round of assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry are released, the Congress party is experiencing an existential crisis.
Of the five assembly elections, four got mandate mostly on the anticipated lines. West Bengal saw a tough fight in which Mamata Banerjee pulled her TMC decisively ahead of the BJP. But in all the elections in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, the Congress presents a sorry picture.
The Congress had a government in Puducherry before the assembly election but lost it due to defections. Now, it has lost power in the state.
The Congress had an anti-incumbency, anti-CAA agitation, anti-NRC sentiments and a history to ride on to wrest power from the BJP in Assam. But the BJP scripted history by becoming the first non congress party to retain power in Assam for second consecutive term.
In West Bengal, the Congress tied up with the Left and controversial Islamist Abbas Siddiqui, who floated Indian Secular Front (ISF) to contest the assembly polls. Some Congress leaders were not happy with the party tying up with the ISF. Now, it sees itself out of contest in West Bengal along with its ally Left Front, the Congress’s rival in Kerala.
The Congress’s Leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury comes from Bengal. Still, the Congress stood decimated in West Bengal. Its top leader Rahul Gandhi campaigned, though delayed, in Bengal but failed to make an impact. It looks like people ignored congress in the whole Bengal as the coalition was not able to bag a single seat in assembly.
But it is Kerala that will hurt the Congress and its top leader Rahul Gandhi the most. In 2019 Lok Sabha election, Rahul Gandhi moved from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, family’s traditional seat, to Wayanad, a confirmed seat of the Congress in Kerala.
The Congress had won 19 of 20 seats in the Lok Sabha election two years ago. This gave an impression that Kerala was ready to follow the four-decade pattern of voting against the state government. No party or coalition has returned to power in over four decades.
Now, the Left Front has bucked the trend and convinced the Kerala voters enough to vote them back to power for consecutive terms. Kerala was the only state where the congress believed it would be voted to power by the very logic of democracy despite its internal fights and relentless campaign by Rahul Gandhi.
There was a narrative that was built during the run-up to these five assembly elections that Rahul Gandhi was waiting for a favorable result particularly in Kerala to return as the Congress president. He had resigned after 2019 Lok Sabha election with scathing remarks against senior Congress leaders blaming their lack of intent for the loss in the national polls.
Rahul Gandhi continued to play the most dominant role in the Congress, took all the key decisions and held the veto in all matters but without donning the presidential hat. His unique political standing in the Congress did not allow the party to elect a new person as party president. Her mother Sonia Gandhi continued to serve as “interim president” of the Congress.
Now that the Congress has been routed in all states that went to the polls when the coronavirus pandemic was raging, Rahul Gandhi’s political capital has taken a big hit. This may add more credibility to the G-23 leaders, the dissenters in the Congress who demanded overhauling of the party and a president who was visible on the ground 24×7.
This is the time, G-23 and others may ask this question: Should Rahul Gandhi return as Congress president despite repeated failures at national and state levels?
Or, have these elections paved a way for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to leap ahead of her brother, Rahul Gandhi to take up the driver’s seat in the Congress vehicle?