The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A senior member of the Congress working committee probably hit the nail on the head when talking about the party’s dilemma after its debacle in Gujarat. He said that the Congress knew what the problem was but was clueless about the solution. It will not be wrong to interpret this statement as an admission of the failure to combat the growth of communalism under the aegis of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the sangh parivar. The election results from Gujarat clearly show the pathetic nature of this failure on the part of the Congress, India’s erstwhile number one party, and the harbinger of the ideology and idiom of secularism in Indian society and politics. Today, it is not only not in a position to stop the juggernaut of co-mmunalism but also unable to stand by secularism as a principle. For its campaign in Gujarat, the Congress decided to play the religious card instead of standing fast under the flag of secularism. The president of the Congress, Ms Sonia Gandhi, decided to launch her party’s election campaign from the Ambaji temple. This was done with an obvious eye to the Hindu vote. The Congress decided to play the BJP on its own turf instead of setting an agenda for itself. It thus stands today without votes and without principles.

On the basis of the results in Gujarat and that of the byelections in Rajasthan, it would be no exaggeration to suggest that the Congress is losing its touch with the people. Even the Dalits, a traditional support base of the Congress, have moved away from the party. They preferred to vote for the BJP despite the party’s upper-caste orientation. In north India, the Congress has already lost its lower caste support as well as the support of the Muslims. In Gujarat, the Dalit support has been eroded and the Muslims, faced with Mr Narendra Modi’s hate campaign, had no other option but to flock to the Congress. The latter stands in danger of even losing this vote if it fails in its duty, as it indeed did in Uttar Pradesh in 1992, to act as the protector of the minorities.

It is always premature to write the obituary of a political party like the Congress. But it would not be unfair to describe its present state as decline without collapse. There were glimmerings of a rejuvenation but the defeat in Gujarat will be a setback to morale and to the organization. The defeat should also produce a bout of introspection about what the Congress actually stands for. For too long the Congress has appeared as the embodiment of all ideologies to all people. As a consequence, it has lost its identity card. Ms Gandhi has restored discipline in the Congress but has not given it an identity.

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