Fallen, into Thin Air
The Congress’ own ineptitude and hubris hurt the party more than Narendra Modi did
If Narendra Modi has vaulted to unexpected heights, the Congress party has plummeted to unimaginable depths. Its decimation calls for an explanation beyond the ineptitude of a Rahul Gandhi and his rootless mentors.
The Congress’ vote share has fallen a steep 10 percentage points to an all-time low of 19%, and for the first time, it has got fewer votes than the BJP. Even in 1998 and 1999, when its tally was significantly lower than the BJP’s number of seats, the Congress had polled a higher share of the popular vote. Now it stands reduced to 44 seats, not making it to double digits even in a single state. How did this absurdity happen?
Revulsion against corruption is a ready explanation, and it has merit. Unrelenting price rise had alienated all town dwellers, undoubtedly. Rahul Gandhi’s failure to impress as a leader, leave alone measure up to an articulate, artful and forceful Narendra Modi, is another valid explanation. The enormous corporate backing Modi got and the far more expensive and sustained media campaign he ran certainly made a difference.
Forgot the Feats…
Congress leaders’ failure to articulate the government’s not-inconsiderable achievements has now become a favourite whipping boy. The boy certainly deserves to be whipped. But the depth of Congress’ fall cannot be explained by these alone. There are deeper structural issues, to ignore which is to forgo any corrective.
Let us look at some facts. The UPA government’s social policy was derived from a National Advisory Council. Why does a political party need to outsource policymaking creativity?
The UPA government put in place a rights-based development model. Education, employment and food are now guaranteed. The right to information allows people to prise information out of the bureaucracy, sniff out malgovernance and corruption.
Like Enforcing New Laws…
The Forest Rights Act undid the enormous injustice done to India’s tribal people by colonial rule, which nationalised forests and made trespassers and criminals out of the tribes that lived in and off forests. Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders never tire of listing these benign gifts of the Congress.
But rights make sense only when they are enforced. As a contract between the state and the people, a right can be enforced either through the courts or through democratic mobilisation of empowered citizenry. The courts are burdened with cases that keep accumulating, instead of getting resolved. So, any prospect of rights helping people via court-mediated enforcement is remote.
That leaves popular mobilisation to enforce rights. Have you heard of any party, leave alone the Congress, mobilising a single soul to enforce any rights? The Right to Information Act has produced several martyrs, not one is from the Congress.
It is indeed true that the record of the UPA government in terms of social development and poverty removal has been nothing short of remark- able. Now, the sharp fall in infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR) since 2004 — from 58 to 42 for IMR and from 280 to 178 for MMR — might be explained more by the rise in incomes and availability of good roads in rural areas that allow a patient to be moved fast to a nearby healthcare facility than by specific schemes meant for women’s and children’s welfare.
But such schemes were well-funded under the UPA, and rural prosperity, sustained rise in real rural wages and large-scale rural road-building too were part of the UPA’s redistributive programmes. Yet, no Congress candidate has taken credit for any of these achievements. But the question is, why not?
& Everything that Mattered
The share of the workforce trapped in low-productivity farm work, a sink for underemployment, has dropped below 50% for the first time, thanks to the demand for labour from construction and related activities such as brickmaking. This is part of the reason for a rise in real wages across rural India, for which the employment guarantee scheme set a floor. Yet, not a chirp on the subject out of a single Congress candidate touring rural areas, even as they coo over little urchins and woo castes and communities.
In 2011, seminars were held in Delhi to celebrate the 20th anniversary of India’s economic reforms. The Congress party did not join the celebrations, it did not claim ownership of this transformative paradigm shift in the nation’s development strategy. No Congressman explained why the party was indifferent, if not looked askance at the reforms.
There is one and only one explanation. Complete political bankruptcy. For the average Congressman, politics has come to mean power, patronage and pelf. Mediating the people’s concerns to the state and empowering and leading people to get the state to deliver on their entitlements just does not figure in their scheme of things. Such understanding of politics as power-broking for self-enrichment is the root failing of Indian politics. And no party exemplifies this failure as well as the Congress does.
This failure explains all the previously listed failures. Thus, reductio ad absurdum.