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Congress report card: Terminal decline in states

Last updated on: December 18, 2010 00:04 IST

Congress report card: Terminal decline in states

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Team Rediff led by Sheela Bhatt and its correspondents across the country and a few respected senior journalists discover that all is not well with India's Grand Old Party in many crucial states.

As the celebrations on turning 125 start, the Congress party needs profound introspection. It is suffering in states without guidance, discipline and a moral and ideological compass.

The Congress name is synonymous with corruption. Its top leadership lives in ivory towers and authority of their security apparatus is scary for the ordinary people of India.

In 2010, when it celebrates its birthday, the biggest weakness of the Congress is that it is not only running a scam-ridden government but -- when compared to the Bharatiya Janata Party -- it also does not have inner-party democracy.

Veteran leaders don't stand up to tell the leadership things in black and white. Congressmen have collectively simply lost the guts to speak their mind and hold their ground before the Gandhi family.

One wonders why partymen did not stop the high command (what an undemocratic entity!) from appointing tainted people at prestigious posts or why they didn't concede the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe to investigate the 2G spectrum scam.

One can argue that the corruption issue is also somewhat a crisis of national character and that the BJP and other regional parties, including the Left government in Kerala, are also suffering from it. But this surrendering of democratic rights to speak out one's mind before a family is the Congress's biggest weakness.

Since 1947, the Indian people are acquiring a robust sense of democracy, but Congressmen have been losing it. The inherent weaknesses of the Congress shows in the state of affairs of the party in different states.

Team Rediff.com asked veterans Congress watchers all over India to give their opinion about Congress's weaknesses and strengths in the states and how people perceive the local leadership. The opinions outline the perception that the party is suffering from terminal decline. Only a miracle can save it. They narrate the dismal state of the Congress.

To read how the Congress is in decline in several crucial states click NEXT...

Shobha Warrier, Renu Mittal, Krishnakumar Padmanabhan, Vicky Nanjappa, and Arun Lakshman contributed to the reportage


Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi

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Uttar Pradesh: Still praying for the Rahul magic

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Reportage: Sharat Pradhan, Lucknow

Uttar Pradesh is crucial to win power in New Delhi. But Rahul Gandhi, Congress party's only strength in the state, is yet to realise that.

He should spend more time across the state, instead of confining himself largely to his own (Amethi) or his mother's (Rae Bareli) parliamentary constituency. The Congress has been out of power since 1989 and hence has an advantage of non-incumbency.

But, infighting within the rank and file is negating such advantages. No two leaders can see eye to eye. So whoever is made Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief necessarily faces a lot of leg-pulling from within.

State Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi is the best bet for the party, but her colleagues, who were angling for the job, will not let her have a smooth sail. The Congress does not function like a party in the state at all.

The priority of individual leaders is to serve their personal agenda -- to seek favours from political parties in power so that they could fill their coffers. Selection of party functionaries at the district, city and grassroot level is done more on the basis of personal whims and prejudices rather than on merit.

Still, in UP, a reasonable section of society would be willing to try out the Congress, especially since they are sick of all others whom they have seen ruling over the last 20 years. Only two Congress leaders had the charisma to win them over, but while Priyanka Gandhi chose to withdraw from the scene, Rahul belied their expectations.

The masses have been waiting for him and it is high time Rahul realised that he must reach out to them. People are of the view that if Rahul thinks he could sway them by simply walking in at the eleventh hour before the elections and go for a road show by waving out to them from a distance, he would be sadly mistaken.

The common view is that time is running out for the party and Rahul. Mayawati considers Rahul the only threat to her. She has been impressing upon all and sundry that what she is doing for Amethi was never even conceived by any Congress leader, including Rahul. In UP, Congressmen are doing nothing. They are waiting for Rahul's magic to work.

Click NEXT to read the state of the Congress in Karnataka...


Image: Rahul Gandhi with sister Priyanka Vadra

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Karnataka: Too busy to pull down the govt

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Madan Mohan, senior journalist, Bengaluru

The only strength that I see in the Congress in Karnataka is that they have managed to hold on to their vote bank, which they had created in 1989.

This vote has not changed since then. But, at the same time, they have not managed to add new voters, who have been voting in favour of other parties. The biggest drawback that the party suffers today is a leadership crisis.

There is no credible leader in the party. It needs to project a young and dynamic leader, which they unfortunately don't have today. Neither do they have a mass leader.

The people of Karnataka do not connect with the party, as the leaders are all old faces who have been operating only out of Bengaluru and not from the rural areas.

What people feel is that instead of acting as a constructive opposition, espousing the cause of the people, they are focusing more on pulling down the government.

The forthcoming local body elections is something that needs to be focussed upon, but looking at the present situation their leaders have not even started work at the grassroot levels. Instead, they are issuing press statements from Bengaluru.

Rather than focusing on pulling down the government, the Congress should do something about caste dynamics to increase their vote share. They have to attract the younger voters, who have not been voting for them.

Click NEXT to read the state of the Congress in Andhra Pradesh...


Image: Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee President R V Deshpande

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Andhra Pradesh: A house on fire

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G Ali Khan, senior journalist, Hyderabad

The Congress, which was in a position of strength, has suddenly found itself on a sticky wicket after the death of Dr Y S Rajasekhara Reddy.

Today, their biggest disadvantage is that they do not have a single person whom they can call as a vote mobiliser.

The present chief minister, Kiran Kumar Reddy does not have support in his party. He is sure to have a troubled road ahead. The only advantage though for the Congress is the weak and divided opposition in Andhra Pradesh. Largely due to this, the Congress, although very weak, can try to aim for a thin majority in the next election.

Unfortunately this is their only strength. The people are, however, not affected with the bickering within the party. They are worried and see the Congress as a party of scams, thanks to what has been happening at the Centre.

Then there's the Jagan Mohan Reddy factor. The Congress is (and will continue to) having a tough time containing his influence among the people of the state and within the paty.

Besides, the party is also sitting on a ticking time bomb called Telangana and unless they act properly the road ahead for them is very hard.

Click on NEXT to read the state of the Congress in Tamil Nadu...


Image: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy
Photographs: SnapsIndia
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Tamil Nadu: Time to look beyond DMK

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Cho Ramaswamy, Editor, Thuglaq, Chennai

The Congress has its traditional vote base in Tamil Nadu and that is their strength.

It may not be growing and that is because the Congress suffered a major setback after G K Moopanar left the party. If G K Vasan (now a Union minister) is given some primacy, there may be some growth.

The alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is a weakness now though it was not so earlier. The enormity of corruption by the DMK and the way they went about it without even caring about the prime minister has shocked people.

If the Congress is clever, it should now leave the DMK. Otherwise, people will think they are also a party in sharing the loot. Because of the scams, the Congress also has lost its credibility and they can regain some credibility by getting rid of the DMK.

Going it alone will not work in Tamil Nadu because people are not ready for that, nor is the Congress. If they go alone who will they project as their leader in the state?

Remember, it is the assembly elections they are going to face and there are leaders like J Jayalalithaa, Vijayakanth and Karunanidhi leading other parties. So it will be better for them as well as for the state if they choose to have an alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam front.

Click on NEXT to read the state of the Congress in Madhya Pradesh...


Image: DMK Chief Karunanidhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: PIB
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Madhya Pradesh: Nobody in Bhopal

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Rasheed Kidwai, senior journalist, Bhopal

The Congress is spending a second term on the opposition benches in Madhya Pradesh.

The state has a two-party system and that is an advantage in the sense that incumbency always favours the opposition party. Though the Congress did not capitalise on it, the party has improved its seats from 30+ in the previous house to 70+ in this House.

Likewise, while they had 4 MPs in the previous government, this time they have 12 MPs.

As the only opposition party in the state, the Congress has a very big role. It has to live up to the billing of the real alternative to the BJP. But it is not doing it at all. There was a very real undercurrent of anti-incumbency in last election, but though there was no great anger against the BJP, the Congress just did not do enough.

Though Madhya Pradesh has many big Congress leaders, the problem is most of them are based in New Delhi, and the party basically runs by proxy. As an organisation it is not at its best.

Another thing is the BJP is much more careful in carving out its leadership. It knows that this is a state where the backward classes and Dalits and tribals are in a majority and has chosen its leaders accordingly.

But upper class members largely lead the Congress. Thus, though the Congress rhetoric is very much about aam admi, in practice, the composition of the Pradesh Congress Committee does not reflect the demography of the state. 

Click on NEXT to read the state of the Congress in Haryana...


Image: Madhya Pradesh Congress unit chief Suresh Pachouri

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Haryana: The frustration within

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Vinod Mehta, director, Total TV, Chandigarh

The Congress is comfortable in Haryana and the government will continue in power, but internally there is a great deal of frustration particularly amongst the MLAs and workers of the party.

This is primarily because the bureaucracy has a stranglehold on Chief Minister Bhupender Singh Hooda and both the legislators and workers feel they are being bypassed and not listened to.

As far as the change of leadership is concerned, it can happen if the Congress leadership is looking at bringing in a non-Jat as the chief minister to play its second card in a bid to make a serious attempt to win the next election.

It is unlikely that another Jat can replace Hooda. The Congress party machinery is in a bad shape, it has become chief minister-centric. The party is surviving because its main rival Om Prakash Chautala does not have desired level of acceptability.

If there had been credible leadership from the opposition, the Congress would have gone out of power long back. The main problem is that the aam Congressman feels himself to be out of the loop and has cut himself off, but he has not left the party since the BJP is not growing in the state and Chautala is not a credible option.

Click on NEXT to read the state of the Congress in Rajasthan...


Image: Haryana Chief Minister Bhupender Singh Hooda
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons
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Rajasthan: Jeep with no engine, no wheels

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Chander Raj Singhvi, politician, Janata Dal-United, Jaipur

Despite the fact that the Congress is in power in Rajasthan and there are no allegations levelled against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, personal or otherwise, the Congress situation in Rajasthan is becoming pitiable as the party has been losing elections, from municipality to student bodies.

The fight between Gehlot and C P Joshi (now Union minister) is slowly squeezing the Congress, as divisions have surfaced in a big way.

The Congress is being discussed by its own MLAs and not the opposition. As far as the party machinery goes, it is like a jeep with a number plate and no engine or tyres.

The MLAs don't stand up for the chief minister and public support is fast getting eroded. So much so that in the next election the Congress will perform pitiably nationwide and you will find that Rajasthan would also mirror the same political thinking.

Click on NEXT to read the state of the Congress in Kerala...


Image: Rahul with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot

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Kerala: The lull before the storm

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Roy Mathew, Surya TV, Thiruvananthapuram

The handsome victory in the recent elections to the local bodies for the Congress-led United Democratic Front has given the Congress and its allies the much-required morale boost for the big show, the assembly polls, coming up in May 2011.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left Democratic Front could get a sizeable lead in the recent local body polls only in the CPI-M stronghold of Kannur district. The party is not in a safe wicket even in Kannur is shown by the CPI-M leadership's recent change of their high profile district secretary P Sasi following a complaint by a leader of the party youth wing DYFI.

The CPI-M has already antagonised the Catholic church and other major Christian denominations and this would give the party a very low results in central Travancore right from Thrissur up to Pathanamthitta where the church plays a major role.

The landslide victories of the Congress and UDF candidates in these districts is a clear show of what is in store for the Leftists in the assembly polls of 2011.

Another major factor which is oscillating in favour of the UDF is the tremendous comeback of the Indian Union Muslim League, which was a bitter loser in the last assembly polls in the party strongholds of Malappuram district. This factor is also giving boost to the electoral prospects of the UDF.

As usual the Congress has its problems and the major one is the question of chief minister once the UDF comes to power. An incomplete stint of only a year and a half in the previous stint will be a major leverage to the former chief minister Oomen Chandy's claim to get the post once more.

However, there are strong undercurrents working and according to highly placed sources in the Congress, A K Antony will have the final say as far as the post of chief minister is concerned.

With the equations not good between Antony and Chandy, there are chances of the former preferring a dark horse for the chief minister's post.

Indications are that Antony could bring in the present Maharashtra Governor Sankaranarayanan to the chief minister's post. This action would put the Nair Service Society in good faith and at one stroke can finish off the political ambitions of Chandy, Vayalar Ravi and Ramesh Chennithala -- the three major aspirants for the post of chief ministership.

Click on NEXT to read the state of the Congress in Gujarat...


Image: Oomen Chandy, one of the next CM probables

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Gujarat: No light at the end of this tunnel

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Achyut Yagnik, author, Ahmedabad

Congress is the B team of the BJP in Gujarat. They don't have vision. They don't have party infrastructure beyond the districts.

I don't see any future of Congress in coming assembly or the Lok Sabha election.

Factionalism is such that the party is unable to move ahead to win people's hearts. 


Photographs: Reuters
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