Can the Congress revive?

The Congress will have to democratise and not put all its hopes in the Gandhi family. KAMAL M CHENOY analyses what led to dismal show ever by the Congress

As expected the Congress was routed in the recent general elections. But few expected it to be so sweeping, leading to widespread debate on it’s future. It’s seats fell not just into double figures but to a historic low of 44 Lok Sabha seats. After such a disastrous debacle it will be difficult for the party to revive. Paradoxically, anumber of senior leaders did not stand, or even campaign. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the architect of neoliberal reforms, who should have used his Teflon image in his party’s favour, retired hurt wounded by his protege and media advisor Sanjaya Baru’s tell all book. P. Chidambaram, a key reformer also bowed out, though he got his son a ticket, who lost woefully.

The economy played a major role in the Congress’ smashing decline. Inflation rose steadily, often steeply, often to oblige influential capitalists like Reliance and the sharp increase in gas prices. Unemployment and underemployment increased sharply, all the while scams were going on from 2G spectrum scam, coal block scam, railways scam, DLF scams, and so on. Big capitalists and foreign capital made a killing, with cell phones costing $5 billion imported. These huge profits and scams were repeatedly discussed in the media and social media. And the Congress’ anointed leader Rahul Gandhi has yet not developed the necessary skills to be a pre-eminent leader. No other leader, including Priyanka Vadra, was developed to be a major leader of this generation. Many others also lost despite nursing their constituencies like Sachin Pilot, Karti Chidambaram and others.

As Gramsci would have put it, the UPA badly lost the struggle for hegemony. It’s organisation is in shambles, many of its veteran leaders are dispirited and believe that reviving the Congress will require a thorough shake up in the organisation, which may not be permitted to happen. But it is critical to remember that this disaster, at the root, was due to neoliberal reforms, and the systemic corruption it gave rise to, including increased crony capitalism.

Can the Congress revive? It will have to democratise and not put all its hopes in the Family. It will have to go back to a greatly updated vision of Nehru, and relook at neoliberalism. A liberal economic policy that privileges employment, sustained poverty reduction, increases in wage good production at reasonable prices, subsidies for education and on the job training, energising the agrarian sector through cooperative farming, raising rural wages, etc are essential. Neoliberalism and dynasty is a recipe for disaster. A disaster from which there will be no coming back. A reformed and recast pro-people Congress is necessary for the democratic movement. Can they meet this challenge?