Congress’ problem with a Capital C!

We are at the beginning of February, and already, we can sense that the country is in General Elections mode. Only election-related news and events seem to get much attention from the media these days. Even the Annual Budget presentation, which is usually a big media event, went with a whimper this year. The government chose to present a matter-of-fact budget, preferring to wait for May post-elections to make any big announcements.  Commentators were quick to conclude that the plain vanilla budget is a reflection of the government’s confidence in winning the third term. Not just commentators, even among the general public, there is a sense that the Narendra Modi-led BJP is certain to win the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Apart from the Government’s performance with which it hopes to win a clear pro-incumbency vote, the other reason for such a sense is the state of the opposition. Never in the past three decades have we seen an opposition in such disarray in India. Perhaps the situation in the US is similar.  When we talk of opposition in a Lok Sabha Election, the focus is obviously on the largest national opposition party, which is the Congress. In the past ten years, ever since the Modi-led BJP came to power that too on its own, Congress has been trying to shake the government with allegations of Corruption (Rafale), Crony Capitalism (Adani), Communalism and so on. All these have not stuck and have not made any impact on the Modi Government because Congress suffers from Mother of all Cs, namely Credibility.

Credibility is multifactorial and built over time based on one’s track record. Here’s where Congress, despite drumming up many issues against the ruling party, cannot gain any traction. Let me explain.

  1. Competence and track record of Congress’ performance: When Congress talks about the Modi Government’s poor record on creating jobs or poverty alleviation, the first thing that comes to an average voter’s mind is, what did Congress do when it ruled the country for 50+ years? Even ignoring past history for now, the next question is whether Congress has managed to remove unemployment and alleviate poverty in any of the states they have ruled recently. Therefore, when Congress questions the incumbent government, they are dismissed as mere hyperbole.
  1. Contradictions: Contradictions abound in many matters that Congress talks about loudly and passionately. The most obvious is its take on secularism. For example, it takes a call not to attend the Pran Pratishta ceremony at Ayodhya since “religion is a personal matter”. However, in Himachal Pradesh – a state ruled by the Congress, the state government announces a public holiday for the same.

Congress accuses the BJP of crony capitalism and supporting a few groups like Adani. Rahul Gandhi has been relentless in his attacks on Adani. However, he or the Congress leadership is in no position to stop any of their states from dealing with the same Adanis. Even the newly minted state of Telangana for the Congress signed a deal for multi-crore contracts with the Adanis!

These are just a few recent examples. Throughout its history, Congress has repeatedly contradicted itself, which has punctured its credibility.

  1. Confusion: In one state, namely West Bengal, Congress is extremely close and comfortable to work as an ally with the Left. However, in Kerala, Congress and the Left fight tooth and nail at all levels. This is even when they are supposed to be part of a unified front against the BJP.  The confusion extends further. Congress claims that the I.N.D.I. Alliance is only for the Lok Sabha elections. It will fight against the same constituents in state elections, like AAP in Delhi. This kind of diverse position has created complete confusion regarding its alliance strategy.
  1. Core Ideology: What is Congress’s core ideology today? Does it support the liberalisation of the economy as it did in 1991, or does it oppose the freeing of the economy as it frequently does these days? Does Congress believe in Secularism, or does it depend on Odd and even days? Is it for the abrogation of Article 370 or not? So on and so forth. Its wavering stand on many of these critical issues has eroded its credibility systematically over the years.
  1. Communication: Communication has not been a strong point for the Congress in the past few years. Problems in the quality of communication, strategy, and tools aside, the biggest issue has been its ability to build a narrative.
  1. Charisma: Where there is no charismatic leader at the top, everything else falters. This automatically comes in the way of building credibility for the party. If very few people take Rahul Gandhi’s words seriously, it is because he has not demonstrated his abilities in any governance position.
  1. Congress Model: Back in 2013, when Modi was announced as the prime ministerial candidate by the BJP, most people accepted him because he had showcased a ‘Gujarat Model’ for governance. AAP could succeed in Punjab as people could relate to its governance model in Delhi. This has been Congress’ most significant problem. Whichever state Congress rules, it finds it difficult to retain for the next term. Since Sheila Dixit in Delhi, Congress has not been able to get re-elected in a state, while the BJP or regional parties like TMC and BJP have managed to retain states. Back in 2017, I wrote in a post that Congress needs a governance “Model” for itself. We are in 2024, and this still holds!

All these Cs have contributed to ensuring the Congress’s lack of credibility.  This may sound very simplistic, but the minders of the Congress do not seem to have grasped this. When Congress attacks the ruling party for unemployment, it should first showcase a working model for reducing unemployment in its own states first.

So, the focus for the Congress is first to walk the talk in one state where it is governing now and use that to build a narrative in a few other states and then the country. This should have been its mission since 2014! Having lost the plot all these ten years, at least now, the effort must be made to build credibility for itself by showing a character of purpose. The C in Congress must stand for Credibility! Congress should not forget that it is pitted against a mighty C – the erstwhile Chaiwallah!


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