Why is the Congress Party struggling to compete in Modi's India?
#41: With Milan Vaishnav, Zoya Hasan, Rahul Verma
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“Congress suffers from three deficits—of ideology, organization, and leadership. Ideologically, the liberal, secular vision of the Congress has fallen out of favor. In part, this is due to the hollowing out of secularism, as many secular politicians opportunistically pander to religious interests when expedient. At the same time, Hindu nationalism’s appeal has grown as the churning in Indian society has hastened. Organizationally, the Congress has institutionalized a top-down culture out of sync with the masses. On leadership, the Congress is a dynastic party and Rahul Gandhi—the latest party scion—has not proven himself up to the task.”
“The Congress has faced problems in grappling with Hindu nationalism, which propelled the BJP to power. The Congress fails to navigate divisive political appeals to ethnic identity, historical vendetta, and group fear and anger. Religion, by redrawing the national community, also voids critiques of the ruling BJP. The well-oiled machinery of the current regime, supported by huge money, media control, state agencies, and an all-encompassing organization like the RSS, makes the task of winning elections very difficult for the Congress. This task becomes even more difficult with people awestruck by visions of strongman leadership that have completely captured Indian politics.”
“The Congress is in terminal decline. It is increasingly marginalised in many important states and its base has shrunken considerably. While electoral losses happen, the scale of the Congress’ defeats in 2014 and 2019 indicates that the odds are stacked against it. It faces many challenges—organisational atrophy, ideological disarray, and uninspired leadership. There are certainly structural reasons for its weakness, but it would also be naive to overlook the organisational inertia and leadership ineptitude that have led it here. And Modi’s BJP has exacerbated the crisis by limiting the strategy options available to the Congress to chart its revival plan.”
If you want to learn more about this topic, here’s a list of further reading:
Democracy in India. Chatham House, Gareth Price
India’s Congress Party Is Still in Decline. Foreign Policy, Sumit Ganguly and Dinsha Mistree
What’s Next for India’s Congress Party? The Diplomat, Nistula Hebbar et al.
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