The latest round of electoral defeats leaves the Indian National Congress gasping for breath in an existential crisis of the gravest proportions. Facing the threat of decimation after being the party which ruled India for several decades, the Congress has been crying out for introspection ever since it was dislodged two years ago after two terms in office in the new millennium. Since May 2014, the party has won only the Union Territory of Puducherry while losing power in several large states like Maharashtra and Haryana. Its claim to being a party to the coalition victory in Bihar is hollow as it came by hanging on to the coattails of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar.
The prospects of Congress continuing to be the anchor of a national alliance for the 2019 parliamentary polls is under a cloud now.The Congress, run by the Nehru-Gandhis as a dynastic behemoth, is facing a leadership crisis like never before. The first voices of dissent against the imminent Rahul Gandhi succession seem to have arisen from within the ranks itself. Curiously, the alternative suggested is Priyanka Gandhi, but there are other senior leaders who are questioning whether the party will ever move beyond the dynasty. The fears that the party may fragment without a dynastic head cannot also be discounted altogether. However, the electoral performance under the existing structure in the last three years has been abysmal, indicating it is time for positive action towards finding a leader who can attract the voter, which is happening increasingly only in presidential-type campaigns by strong leaders, as Narendra Modi demonstrated with the BJP in 2014 and Mamata Banerjee and J.
Jayalalithaa did with in their states most recently.It is not only in picking someone to head the party that the Congress has a problem. It is chary of allowing its regional leaders to grow into national prominence, with the high command prone to thrusting chief ministers from above. Beyond the leadership issue, the question of ideological positioning in a changing India in which pro-poor champions like Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa are the best performers, is also important for the Congress, eternally pegged to its principal plank of being pro-minorities. While they too need to be nurtured in a pluralistic society, it is clear India has outgrown the majority-minority wedge in opportunistic vote-bank politics. Congress has struggled to position itself in the new environment. Any regional satrap on his/ her own may not effectively lead a strong opposition, which is why the survival and revival of the Congress may be a national necessity.