Having being used to seeing the Congress party make self-goals so frequently in the recent past, it seems unbelievable to see it finally do some course correction. The biggest credit for this goes to its conspicuous-by-his-absence turned conspicuous-by-his-presence vice president, Rahul Gandhi.
After generating a lot of disappointment by his sudden disappearance, the new avatar of Rahul Gandhi seems to be garnering some good reviews. Not only is he more visible these days, his body language seems more positive and confident, and he has managed to give some good sound bites. He is seen listening to the problems of people even when no elections are around the corner. Only if this was done much earlier, the Congress wouldn’t have performed so badly in the recent elections. However, if this means that the Congress party, especially the Gandhi scion, has learnt some lessons, it is great news for the party as well as the Indian political system that lacks any credible opposition.
That a ‘Gandhi’ surname alone cannot win elections, is a foregone conclusion by now. It needs the support of other party members and this time around they too seem to be doing a good job. In a recent interview to a leading news channel, Digvijay Singh defended Rahul Gandhi’s holiday which he had earlier claimed was due to the latter’s disappointment with the system that did not allow the Congress vice president to function in a manner that he wished. Digvijay very cleverly turned that factual statement into his perception. He is not alone in showing solidarity with the party. Its other leaders like Sachin Pilot and P Chidambaram are also seen on television these days defending their government’s actions, while smartly attributing their defeat to failure in marketing their achievements well.
It is a great start for the Congress party, if this is indeed a start of their course correction. If they want to win the 2024 general elections, they have to start now. And yes, it is 2024 and not 2019 because the Modi government seems to be doing a good job so far and the anti-incumbency factor usually seeps in after the second term. Ten years may seem to be a long time, but the damage that has been done to the Congress party’s image is so immense that it will take years of consistent hard work to make people forget the wrongs and bestow some faith in the party again.
The Congress party needs to keep talking about its schemes that have done well for the citizens, highlighting the ones that are being continued by the NDA government. It needs to continue highlighting the mistakes of the current government and show what they could have done instead. The party needs to put up a united face with its prominent leaders being visible more often than not. Out of sight is out of mind and the Congress party clearly cannot afford that. The party needs to keep meeting people and raising their issues.
Being in politics, it is but natural for the party to play politics and it already is. It seems to be giving the BJP a taste of its own medicine by stalling Parliament on key issues like the GST. Here again, the party needs to be cautious, which it currently seems to be. When leaders like Chidambaram tell the media that it has been supportive of bills like the one on black money, it sends out a good message. It shows that the party is serious about issues that matter to the general public, while it is clearing its doubts about other bills like the GST. Basically, the party seems to be taking care of people’s perception, which can make or break elections.
The best part about the current scenario is that there is no credible opposition. AAP, which was being seen as a potential threat, is turning out to be a damp squib; and other regional parties are too small and too whimsical to put up a united front. It is sad that the Congress party has let this gap be created at a place where it was considered to be the rightful owner whenever it lost elections. Nevertheless, it has been lucky that this space is still vacant for it to claim again.
Though Sonia Gandhi, the ubiquitous face of the Congress, seems to have passed on the mantle to Rahul Gandhi, she cannot afford to retire yet. She too can play a major role in the revival of the Congress as she had done in 2004. She too can be more visible and provide some hope to the voters. Her presence would be the icing on the cake that other prominent leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Chidambaram and Sachin Pilot seem to be baking.
As years will go by, there will be many disgruntled allies of the NDA government that would be willing to join hands with the Congress. There would be many voters whose expectations would not be met. The Congress party needs to keep an eye for such opportunities and not once again go back to sleep in its ivory tower, only to emerge intermittently or near the elections to harp back to its age-old ‘Gandhi’ card. It won’t work anymore as has been proved in the recent elections that were some of the worst in the party’s history. The party does not and will not have any dearth of opportunities; all it needs is to be prepared. It seems to be on the right track this time – only if it continues the journey, slowly and steadily...
(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)