In a fortnight from now, two key states — Maharashtra and Haryana — will go to polls. Both states have been Congress bastions in the past, with the party leading the government in Haryana for 10 years between 2004 and 2014, and 15 years in Maharashtra between 1999 and 2014. Both states have thrown up important leaders for the Congress in the past, been key avenues for resource mobilisation for the party, and contributed to its national dominance.
But that is history. Even a cursory glance at the Congress’ preparations for the polls shows how weak it has become. For one, in both states, there has been a high degree of internal factionalism. The feud between Ashok Tanwar and former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was resolved in favour of the latter only a month ago — but it has come at the cost of Mr Tanwar quitting the party. There has also been large-scale defections of party leaders in Maharashtra and dissent by influential figures like Sanjay Nirupam. Two, the party’s campaign has been lacklustre — even as the Bharatiya Janata Party chief ministers, Manohar Lal Khattar and Devendra Fadnavis, have been on the road for months. The Congress has been unable to mobilise public sentiment even though it could have capitalised on anti-incumbency. Three, the Congress’ lack of clarity on key ideological issues is apparent. The party, at the national level, has criticised the government’s moves on Kashmir — but in Haryana, Hooda is supportive of it. And finally, the party’s organisational weakness and its inability to enthuse are visible.
All these issues can be traced to a crisis at the top. Rahul Gandhi quit as president, and appears to have retreated from day-to-day functioning. Sonia Gandhi’s political instincts remain sharp, but she will not be able to actively spend time on the ground campaigning. Until the national leadership is able to firmly resolve issues in state units, carve out an agenda and political line, address discontent, and build a mass movement, the Congress’ future will remain bleak. By almost giving up even before voting, it is failing in its task as the country’s primary opposition.
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