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Business News/ Politics / Why Congress is struggling to maintain relevance as 2024 Lok Sabha polls approach?

Why Congress is struggling to maintain relevance as 2024 Lok Sabha polls approach?

As the 2024 Lok Sabha elections near, the Congress seems to be losing relevance, even among INDIA bloc allies. The party needs to rewrite its ideological agenda and welcome people with rightist views within its broad spectrum of secular politics to counter the BJP surge, say political observers.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Siliguri on Sunday. (PTI)Premium
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Siliguri on Sunday. (PTI)

The Indian National Congress (INC) that witnessed phases like the Nehruvian era, Indira Gandhi era and Manmohan Singh era, is now witnessing a phase of reducing relevance. As the 2024 Lok Sabha polls near, the Congress seems to be losing relevance, favour and preference, even among the peer parties in the INDIA bloc. 

The ambitious INDIA bloc project by the Congress lost its architect, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, on January 28. Nitish Kumar, the leader of Janata Dal (United), informed the Bihar governor that he would severe ties with the Mahagathbandhan, which also includes Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress. 

Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee also informed that her party would fight the Lok Sabha elections solo in Bengal, dealing a blow to the INDIA bloc helmed by Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge. To add salt to the wound, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also announced solo fights in Punjab and Haryana. 

The Congress under Rahul Gandhi is now “accused" of portraying leftist ideologies, that refuse to resonate with Indian voters who now have aligned with the majoritarian politics of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). 

The Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru was an evidently omnibus institution that co-opted the ideological shades of the right-centre-left and built a consensus to rule India, giving no leeway to political parties of left and right orientation to spread their political and electoral wings.

However, the seeds that were sown in the Nehruvian era germinated during Indira Gandhi's ascension, and became a full-grown tree during the Sonia Gandhi era when local decision-makers of the Congress had no connect with the higher-command leaders.

The Lok Sabha election in 2004 was a battle between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by its popular prime minister, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) stitched together under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. 

The NDA government had performed reasonably well, but the 2002 Gujarat riots and its “India Shining" campaign did not go down well with voters and it lost the elections to its main adversary. 

Manmohan Singh became the prime minister of the UPA government. The leadership was diluted from a single person to Manmohan-Sonia-Rahul troika which worked well for five years from 2004 to 2009, and in the 2009 national elections was able to retain power winning over 200 seats on its own.

The gains made in 2009 by the Congress were lost midway as the UPA-II government was besieged by numerous scams, high inflation and unemployment rates, price rise and the policy paralysis that hit the country in the last two years of its regime, recounts Economic and Political Weekly. 

The general election in 2014 marked the real decline of the Congress as it witnessed a “wave" election with a new dimension. 

Indian voter base contended with two varied thought processes- 

-Anti-incumbency against the Congress which pushed its tally of seats to 44 which is the lowest and its vote share fell below 20%.

-The Modi fanaticism with BJP PM-designate Narendra Modi propelling the saffron party back to power in Delhi with a comfortable majority.

The Congress at present does not have a strong leader and workable structure and its ideological agenda of leftist-welfarist policies for the poor has been hijacked by the BJP which is using it cleverly to position itself as the single dominant party in Indian politics. 

For the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress banked on Nitish Kumar's successful project - the Bihar caste census. However, with the Bihar CM performing his umpteenth flip-flop, the caste census is now a queen's gambit for the NDA. 

The BJP-led NDA, now equipped with an Ayodhya Ram Mandir and a caste census by association, seems stronger than ever to assure a comeback in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. 

The Congress needs to rewrite its ideological agenda and open the entry gates of the party for people with rightist views within its broad spectrum of secular politics to counter the BJP surge in the country, say political observers. 

While Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatras are only a step in the path to reviving the dying grand old party, the Congress requires a complete overhaul to find its relevance; only then can it orchestrate a political rebound in the distant future.

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Sayantani is a Chief Content Producer with Livemint. Her interests are politics, war, and conflict. Off-duty, she explores cultural history and the 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'
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Published: 29 Jan 2024, 01:30 PM IST
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