ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Does the Congress Have a Future?

Political parties with a rich and storied history do not perish easily. A political revival of the Congress is diffi cult but not impossible. It needs to go back to the basics and identify a core strategy to reverse the current tide towards the right. It has to rework its strategies and win back its core voters. Basically, it needs support among a cross-section of the voters to counter the formidable Hindu social coalition engineered by the power-obsessed Modi–Amit Shah duo which has underpinned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh–Bharatiya Janata Party’s quest for a “Congress-mukt Bharat.”

I am grateful to Anil Nauriya and Adnan Farooqui for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.

The Indian National Congress (henceforth, the Congress) today is in serious crisis. The 2014 general elections reduced the party to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha—a shocking comedown for a party whose history is integral to India’s founding narrative. The Congress polled just 19.3% of the votes, declining from 28.6% in the 2009 elections. This defeat was far worse than anything in its long history. Indeed, its decimation everywhere in the 2014 election constitutes the most severe crisis for the party, worse even than the late 1970s when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had suspended democracy and imposed the Emergency. The Congress’s failure to win a single seat in Delhi (2015) and its victory in just seven seats in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly elections (2017) only confirmed the existential crisis facing the party after it lost power at the centre.

Overall, the 2014 elections produced a sharp shift to the right catapulting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the centre stage of Indian politics, as Narendra Modi led his party to a sensational win. The BJP won 282 seats and 31% of the national vote; its main success had come from the states of North and West India, with the party winning four of every five seats it contested. Coupled with the near obliteration suffered by parties on the left, one can conclude that the centrist, secular and progressive voices had lost out. The steep fall of the Congress and the rising support of the BJP is a sure sign of a tectonic shift in Indian politics (Kishore 2017). Spearheaded by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)/BJP, the right has undoubtedly become the central pole of Indian politics. Its success in UP is the strongest evidence yet of the broader shift to the right—to all intents and purposes, the BJP’s resurgence in UP strengthens this shift.

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Updated On : 21st May, 2021
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