India's Congress Party Can Revive if Priyanka Gandhi Vadra Takes Charge, Say Experts

© AFP 2023 / NARINDER NANUA Congress party supporter rides a bicycle with a party flag (File)
A Congress party supporter rides a bicycle with a party flag  (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.06.2022
India’s grand old political party Congress was decimated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 national parliamentary elections. The party suffered a massive defeat, managing to win only 44 of the 543 parliamentary seats.
For decades, the Indian National Congress, generally referred to as Congress, was the most dominant political party in India.
The Congress ruled the country in most of the years since Indian independence in 1947, while various other parties continued to be formed and enjoy regional success.
However, for eight years, the age-old party has been out of power at the federal level.
Its 2014 Parliamentary elections loss to its arch-rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dealt a major blow to the Congress, as since then the party has lost most of the elections – the 2019 Parliamentary polls as well as key state legislative assembly polls.
Additionally, a continuous exodus of its prominent members has emerged as a major issue for the party since 2014.
The party has been holding regular meetings with its cadre and key politicians to understand their concerns, but hasn't reached any constructive solutions which would address key concerns.
Recently, the party held a three-day brainstorming session in Udaipur, a city in Rajasthan state. Attended by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, former president Rahul Gandhi and other senior members, it aimed to discuss the challenges the party is facing and to created a strategy for the 2024 Parliamentary elections.
The party also discussed how it could strengthen itself to take on the BJP.
Sputnik reached out to various political experts to analyse the range of challenges the party is facing and if it has any chance of resurrecting itself in the near future.

Congress Leadership: A Major Challenge

The party, which once counted among its ranks most of the stalwart leaders in the country, is presently witnessing a leadership crisis.
Congress has been functioning without a full-time party chief since 2019, when Rahul Gandhi resigned from the post due to the party's embarrassing defeat in polls. As a stopgap solution, Sonia Gandhi, the wife of Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi's mother, was made the party's interim president, a post she still holds.
Talking to Sputnik about the leadership crisis in Congress, political analyst Vinod Kumar Shukla said: “Despite Congress denying the fact that there is no leadership crisis in the party, the truth is totally different. There is no full-time president and this impacts the decision-making.”
“If you see, there is a visible difference between BJP and Congress when we talk about leadership. In BJP, every party member knows who has the decision-making powers while in Congress the workers don’t have a clear idea of who will take the final decision,” he added.
Senior Journalist Prem Kumar also agreed that there is definitely a leadership crisis in Congress.
Talking to Sputnik, Kumar pointed out that no internal elections of the party at district level or local level have taken place for some years. "The democratic structure of the party is in the doldrums."
"With this situation, we can’t expect the workers to work in a disciplined manner and this is the major reason why the party is not able to perform well,” he added.

Need for Changes?

In 2020, a group of 23 senior Congress politicians, now known as G-23, wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi and, citing uncertainty over leadership and the demoralisation of workers in view of frequent poll setbacks, requested assurances of an immediate organisational reshuffling.
Talking about the leadership within the party, Shukla said: “I think the party should be led by someone who has political maturity and has a better understanding of the ground reality.”
Meanwhile, Kumar said that in the recent past no leader with natural leadership traits has emerged in Congress. In such a condition, he opined, the top leadership will always be surrounded by sycophants.
“Due to lack of leadership, the party is losing its connection with the people. Therefore, the need of the hour is to bring a change in the leadership,” he added.
On the issue of a change of leadership, both Kumar and Shukla agreed that it is time for the Congress to think beyond Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
They suggested giving a chance to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to lead the party, as they feel that she has a better connection with the people as well as the party cadre. She happens to be Sonia Gandhi's daughter, too.
Shukla said that Vadra deserves a chance to lead the party because Rahul has failed previously and is reluctant to take up the responsibility now. He further added that Vadra is much mature and realistic.
Echoing the views of Shukla, Kumar said that Vadra is the best option as she can engage in innovative politics.
“The slogans she gave during the Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections went well with the people. However, the poll results didn’t go as per Congress’ wish but that’s because Vadra didn’t get support from the party itself,” Kumar added.

Chance to Turn Its Fortunes

As elections keep on taking place at regular intervals in varying parts of the country, the political parties are always on their toes. Thus, they have to form strategies, finalise the candidates and a list of those who would promote the candidates during poll campaigns.
In the past few years, the BJP has always been aggressive in its poll campaigns in all the states, whether it is in power or not. But the Congress has not been so aggressive.
Talking about the situation, Shukla said that the Congress has been a late starter. “The political scenario in India has changed. Political parties across the countries are now always ready with a strategy for the polls, one after another,” he stated.
“A basic difference between Congress and BJP is visible. While the BJP starts preparing for polls way ahead of the dates but the Congress enters into poll mode very late. For example, Gujarat state assembly polls are to be held in December this year and the BJP politicians have already started their campaigns and connecting to the people," he said.
"But no prominent Congress leader has gone there even once,” said Shukla.
Shukla said this has been the practice of Congress from quite some time and this is the reason why it is losing its connection with the people.
He also said: “I think that Congress workers have forgotten to work on the ground. Even Rahul Gandhi fails to address the issues on ground. He is more busy on Twitter but politics are not done on social media.”
Both the experts believe that if Congress wants to resurrect itself and take on BJP in the upcoming polls, be it a Parliamentary or state assembly, it has to ask its workers to work on the ground so that those who have lost faith in the party can reconnect and vote for it.
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