The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A political party without an ideology is like a rudderless boat. The Congress, by attempting to be all things to all people, has lost its anchor. It is pulled by different political currents in different directions. In the days of yore its political character was identified with secularism. It abandoned this when its president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, chose to begin her election campaign in Gujarat from a temple. On the Bharatiya Janata Partyís turf, in a state ravaged by violence championed by Hindu fundamentalists, the Congress decided to advocate a soft Hindutva line to woo Hindu voters. It did not gain any votes but lost its identity and its goodwill. It was an act of unprecedented thoughtlessness which can only be explained by the fact that the Congress leadership does not have a mind. After being routed in Gujarat, the Congress is now completely lost in the political woods. It lacks direction, is low on morale and is vacuous in rhetoric. The Congress has never been in such a plight. But the plight is of its own making. The absence of direction and ideology is manifest also in the Congress leadershipís attitude to economic reforms. In 1992, the Congress pioneered the era of liberalization. It could be expected that it would tomtom this and claim that the National Democratic Alliance was only following Congressís economic agenda. But the Congress has suddenly turned coy about liberalization. As a complement to its soft Hindutva political line, it now advocates a soft socialist economic policy.

The Congress has thus put itself in an ideological no-manís land. This only compounds its organizational disarray. There are provinces where it is almost an electoral non-starter. This unfortunate development leaves a particularly important political space completely unoccupied. The BJP and the sangh parivar are free now to set the nationís agenda in whatever way it wants. There is no political formation, given the pitiful state of the Congress, which can dominate the secular space and articulate the aspirations of the secular-minded people. The Congress embodied the hopes of large sections of the people but it has lost this distinction. After the demolition of Babri Masjid and especially after its performance in the Gujarat polls, the Muslims no longer have confidence in the Congress. The backward classes and the Dalits have their own parties. In the south the regional parties prevail. The Congress has lost its stage and has lost its script. The enigma of the Congress leadership has ceased to be of relevance.

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