The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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An election debacle inevitably leads to a certain amount of introspection. Such a post mortem is important for a party like the Congress, not only because it suffered a resounding defeat in Gujarat but also because its popularity among the electorate is nowhere near what it used to be even a decade or so ago. Indiaís number one political party of the past has been reduced to an also-ran in the present. There are two ways of explaining this phenomenal decline. One is to look at the leadership, its abilities and its performance. The second is to look at the ground-level reality and the changes in the social basis of the support to the Congress. Conventionally, analysis tends to concentrate on the leadership and its many failures. This is very much in keeping with the Congressís image of itself as a party driven by loyalty to the Gandhi-Nehru family. This kind of analysis simplifies a very complex political and sociological phenomenon. In most parts of India, the Congress drew support from the Dalits, the backward castes and Muslims. This base has now been completely fractured. Dalits and backward castes no longer look to the Congress for representing their interests. They have their own parties, some of which are splinters from the Congress or the Congress Socialist Party. Muslims, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, are very sceptical about the Congressís abilities to protect minority interests. The Congress has undertaken no major initiatives to win back this support base. The party is left in a kind of no manís land.

The Congress working committee has just woken up to this plight. It has begun to recognize that if the Congress is to remain a potent political force, it can no longer remain alone. The non-secular space in Indian politics has not undergone a fracturing but the secular space has. If the Bharatiya Janata Party, the principal non-secular party, has to be combated, it is necessary to endow some unity to the secular space. This will be possible if the Congress is amenable to the idea of alliances with other secular parties. There are signs in the post mortem, subsequent to the Gujarat elections results, that the Congress is now open to the idea of alliances and coalitions.

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