A robust Opposition, as we are all aware of, is indispensable for a successful working of spirited democracy. It presents healthy debate and discussion, and holds the government of the day to account not just for corruption, nepotism but for any kind of its shilly-shallying in addressing any core issues concerning society. If need be, it can hold out an alternative government. Without strong opposition, democracy may again be reduced to a rudderless ship.
But will the principal Opposition party, the Congress, be able to revamp its sagging image as a dominant national party? Its shocking performances in the past few elections that have further diluted it have raised doubt about its future. To exemplify, in the recently-held Assembly by-elections in the five States including Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress, failed to put up an impressive performance. Then again, in November, in the Bihar State Assembly election, though the Congress as a key constituent of the Mahagathbandhan led by Tejashwi Yadav, the leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), contested as many as 70 seats, it fared too poorly when it somehow managed just 19 seats against 27 seats it won in the 2015 State polls. Earlier, in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019, too, its performance was also equally disappointing when it won just 44 and 52 seats respectively.
Back home, in Assam, the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and the Tiwa Autonomous Council (TAC) elections were held in quick succession recently. The BTC elections dubbed as a semifinal to the upcoming State Assembly polls, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), headed by Hagrama Mohilary, returned with many more seats than its nearest rival, another dominant regional entity, the Pramod Boro-led UPPL, winning 17 of 40 seats in the Council despite the anti-incumbency wave against the former, but the Congress managed just one seat. On the other hand, its arch rival the ruling BJP’s performance is incredibly well, winning nine seats alone, that too without any strong or solid support base there.
An analysis of the results of these elections since 2014 itself is a reminder of the Congress’ decline in most States, and, in Assam its tale in this regard is no exception.
This declining trend of the national party in the Indian politics, however, is not a sudden or new development. Honestly speaking, its decline has started with the gradual polarization of society across caste, creed, religion, etc., since the early 90s. Resultantly, the country witnessed the intensified Mandal and Mandir agitations, and, depressingly for the Congress, it had since been losing one State after another with its committed backward classes voters, that is, those of OBCs, Dalit communities switching over their loyalties to such influential entities as the BSP of Mayawati, SP and RSP. And, the upper caste Hindus shifted their allegiance to the BJP. This development left the Congress in the troubled water. Almost that time around, the Congress lost Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha. Of course, in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu the party has been out of power for a pretty long time now, and it is no wonder that since then it had never ever been able to win the Assembly elections in these important States. The erosion in its solid support base in these States could have well been put at check notwithstanding the Mandal or Mandir agitation contributing to the division of Indian politics, provided the Congress had a well-knit, cohesive organizational network at the grassroots levels and maintained a constant facade of secularity and squabbles-free party.
As the party’s track record of the recent past was not impressive, it is no surprise that the organization is today facing an existential crisis in most States, more so with the resurgent saffron brigade trying as it can to clip its wing. The organization’s current crisis starts deepening since its inability to find a leader beyond the Gandhi family. An aged Sonia Gandhi’s term as the interim Congress president was to end on August 10, but is still its president as it is over-dependent on her. On December 19 last, Sonia Gandhi met a group of leaders, including some who had written to her seeking complete organizational overhaul. In the meeting at New Delhi, they discussed ways to tone up the party at all levels and it was decided to hold conclaves similar to Anchmarhi and Shimla to chalk out the ways ahead. The five-hour meeting assumed great significance as it was the first effort by the Congress leadership for a rapprochement with the ‘letter writers’ who raised the leadership issue. But the leadership issue ought to have figured prominently as choosing a new Congress president is the dire need for organizational overhaul at the State level in this grave hour.
With the ineffective central leadership, the party in Assam is also faced with factionalism. The recent exit of former Congress minister Ajanta Neog, Rajdeep Goala and two other MLAs from the party is a clear proof. In the past few months, the State leadership had ample opportunity to regroup by holding the incumbent Central Government responsible for its lapses in handling several concerning issues. The controversial CAA, ILP, the issue of implementation of Clause VI of the Assam Accord, to name a few, were opportunities for the Congress. But the party lost the same. It in fact came a cropper to successfully exploit them to their hilt, much needed for refurbishing its sagging image before the State polls.
There are only a few months left for the Assam State Assembly election. This time it will witness a number of regional parties in the fray – the Asom Gana Parisad (AGP), UPPL, BPF, Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) and Raijor Dal (RD) – besides the ruling BJP, the Congress, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the CPI, the CPI(M), etc. One crucial question that naturally comes to mind in this context is: Will the Congress this time be able to put up a better performance than in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2016 State Assembly elections when it had won three and 26 seats respectively? Since its image as a principal Opposition has been further impaired following the party’s serious debacles in the recent TAC and BTC polls, it can be an uphill job for the Congress to display a relatively better showing alone in the ensuing polls. So against its dismal electoral backdrop, to reach a halfway mark of 60 in a House of 126 legislators, all the Congress needs to do is reach a seat-sharing agreement with the two newly-floated regional players in Assam politics – the Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal. The sooner it is done the better for all the Congress electorally.
This article has been written by n Dwaipayan.