Congress President Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)
Congress President Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)

Opinion: Congress needs to revisit strategy and organization

Congress fought with less of available strength, more of inherent weaknesses

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has witnessed a landslide victory and has performed even better than in 2014. This is a very decisive and consolidated mandate given by the electorate in the name of Narendra Modi.

BJP deliberately chose to concentrate its campaign around Modi and it has paid huge dividends to the party. Notwithstanding the parliamentary form, elections to the Lok Sabha 2019 took a clear presidential form with the slogan ‘Ek Bar Phir Modi Sarkar’. The political narrative was tactically shifted by the BJP leadership, particularly Modi, between the first and third phase, before further tweaking its campaign strategy in the run up to the fifth phase to cater to the Hindi heartland states. This election also observed very aggressive and unpleasant campaigning.

In 2014, Congress was decimated to 44 seats with 19.3% vote share, which was its worst performance ever since independence. Congress was initially almost clueless how to handle the juggernaut of the BJP, which was pushing the Congress out of power across states. The revival of the party became discernible in December 2018 when it managed to win in three states in the Hindi belt (Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh), where the BJP had done exceedingly well in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

The Congress-led campaign in this election was very different. The party tried hard to bring the issue of corruption (Rafale) with a direct attack on the Prime Minister, along with the issues of farmers’ unrest, unemployment among youth, inflation, demonetization and goods and services tax (GST). Congress also came out with a proposal of the NYAY scheme to lure the marginalized section of the society. However, the corruption issue could not influence the electorate in any way and the idea of NYAY could not reach the potential group of electorate, despite a very hard-fought and vigorously canvassed election by Rahul Gandhi.

Congress fought this election with less of available strength and more of inherent weaknesses even as it took on a political party with a very organized, cadre-based and resourceful political party under the extraordinary leadership of Narendra Modi. The biggest weakness of the party has been poor organizational structure, minimal resources, and diminishing vibrant leadership at the state level, among other issues.

Gandhi confined his campaign in a very stereotype manner with the same political narrative and metaphor all through, whereas the requirement was much larger, changeable and bigger, so as to percolate down to the rank and file of the party, and to help the electorate across the country and caste, class and gender, form an opinion.

The Congress was expecting to improve its performance in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, and a revival in Bihar, Haryana, Assam and Maharashtra. On the contrary, it has further lost ground in all these states, with many senior leaders losing from their seats. This will have wider ramifications for the party.

It was expected of the Congress party to stitch an alliance at the pan-India level against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), but in some crucial states that did not happen.

On the contrary, the NDA entered into all possible alliances very quickly. The campaign strategy of the BJP was at another level and unparalleled. In fact, it was not the BJP, it was Modi who was fighting from each seat, and the electorates were so mesmerized and convinced with his leadership and the ‘Modi hai to Mumkin hai’ slogan that irrespective of gender, caste, class and region, their votes went in favour of the BJP.

Lok Sabha elections 2019 have given a second consecutive mammoth victory to the BJP for the first time in the electoral history of India. Congress, on the other hand, was further decimated in several places.

Media and other political parties may raise questions on the leadership of Gandhi, but any strong voice of dissent from within the party is less likely to reach the ears of the Gandhi family, which is key to the party’s unity. Nevertheless, the challenges before him as party president are likely to increase enormously and he has to reinvent many things to make the party politically sustainable.

This huge electoral defeat requires a thorough introspection for the Congress party in terms of what went wrong and why this has happened to a party which was in opposition for five years. A rigorous SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis leading to a roadmap is urgently required for the party to become vibrant, articulate and responsive even as the principal opposition party in the 17th Lok Sabha.

Yatindra Singh Sisodia is director at the Madhya Pradesh Institute of Social Science Research, Ujjain, and a political analyst.