With the footfall of general elections ringing in the ears, every new development in national politics paves way for instilling hope or triggering apprehensions among the ruling and the opposition parties.
This is because none can predict the course national politics will take in a year. Nobody had expected the Congress which had to remain out of power for a decade, to reclaim its hold on the ‘shining India’ under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee rule in 2004. When the secular parties including the Left, joined their hands in unison under the leadership of the party president Sonia Gandhi, it worked a wonder. Given that Indian politics is an open market with countless prospects, experience proves that even the affairs deemed trivial, are capable of creating far-reaching consequences. Certain political currents have been unleashed over the past several months which compel those who questioned whether a comeback would be possible for the Congress - a party with its lowest numerical strength in the Parliament since Independence, without even the status of an opposition party - to carry out a rethink. In the Gujarat assembly elections, the outcome noted was the performance of the Congress showing signs of resurgence more than the continuation of the BJP rule. Had the party been able to secure ten more seats, the state which has been under the grip of the Hindutva forces for two and a half decades, would have created another history. It was amidst carefully assessing the implication of this popular verdict that the results of by-elections in some states came out last week. Unlike the grey popular will in Gujarat, the by-poll results in Rajasthan and Bengal are likely to increase the morale of the secular parties, particularly the Congress.
The victory of the Congress in the two Lok Sabha seats in the by-polls held in Rajasthan, gives morale to the party leaders and supporters across the country due to several reasons. In the 2014 elections, Congress had failed to secure even a single seat in the state which has 25 Lok Sabha constituencies. In the assembly elections the previous year, Sonia’s party had bagged only 21 out of 200 seats. This time, in Alwar and Ajmer Lok Sabha constituencies, Congress representatives roundly beat the sitting BJP MPs with a massive majority. The fact that even when its dissident candidate grabbed 40, 000 votes, Congress won the Mandalgarh assembly seat by nearly 13, 000 votes, might have literally shocked the BJP. In West bengal, the by-poll results have once again proved that it is impossible for the BJP to make a headway in the state beating the Trinamool Congress. Given that the general elections and the assembly elections in eighteen states are due in two years, the warning is perceptible that the people's verdict might not be as planned by the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo. And this should inspire the secular parties especially the Congress leadership to weave new strategies and coalitions.
The fact that in the pre-Budget session meeting of Opposition parties convened by Sonia Gandhi, all parties including Trinamool Congress participated, and evolved a joint strategy, is a sign that they all recognise that they cannot make progress without uniting in critical times. In the elections for President and Vice President, the Congress President had been able to bring together 17 parties. The fact that in most states a strong anti-incumbency wind is blowing, and the farmers and workers have been thrown into dire financial straits and social insecurity, has forced even the common man to think of alternatives. Thus, the question of the hour is whether the Congress is, in this perspective is ready to jump into action with force and diligence. In Karnataka where elections are to be held soon, chief minister Sidharamayya has been showing the grit to take on the BJP with a morale not visible in any other leader, and that has boosted his image even among opponents.
The pertinent question is: Is the leadership ready to accept the reality that what made the party ridiculous was jettisoning its ideological commitment in toto and plunging into the dirty sewer of power politics, and to correct its mistakes? The party that had once acted as a crutch and protector of grassroots sections including farmers, weaker sections, Dalits and minorities, forgot the obligations it inherited, and swam to the other side of vice for the sake of vested interests. And it was this that cost them their space in national politics which the leadership has to be seized of. In parallel, Rahul Gandhi's leadership should also be prepared to break from its recent path of competing with communal and divisive forces to toe the same line. If it enters the scene of action with strong will and raise expectations about a clean political alternative, it can undoubtedly steer the course of national politics as wished by a well-meaning populace.