Two days after the Congress suffered reverses in another two states of the Union, the party will observe the 25th death anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Is it symbolic that the grand-old party (GOP) of India is fast nearing its extinction within a quarter century of the assassination of the last prime minister from the family?
This is not entirely coincidental. The Congress has been so much dependent on the Gandhi family that the untimely deaths of three of its top political leaders within a gap of 11 years proved to be big blows for the party.
Sonia Gandhi revived the party but since 2009, Congress has only gone downhill
It again needed a Gandhi in Rajiv's widow Sonia to revive the party in the late 1990s after it underwent a chaotic phase and she did well in bringing the party back to power in 2004 and 2009 (though never on its own) but the journey has only been downhill from then onwards for the GOP. And now with Sonia Gandhi ailing and her son Rahul Gandhi failing to discover the magic touch to carry forward the baton, the Congress's fate now rests with the Almighty.
Not entirely right to blame Sonia for Congress's woes today; the party was destroyed by her mother-in-law
It is not entirely right to blame Sonia Gandhi and her Italian origin for whatever ills the Congress is facing. Though it is difficult to imagine today, it was the same Congress which was once a party with a massive structure, leadership and ideological strength. When Jawaharlal Nehru had passed, the Congress did not have a pressing succession problem and another towering personality named Lal Bahadur Shastri replaced him.
Even after his sudden death, the Congress syndicate made a strategic move to pick Indira Gandhi to lead. Whatever be the motives, the party never was short of a face to lead it. But it was Indira, who with time, made sure that the party's good was sacrificed at the altar of personalised rule and it ultimately led to the dynastic rule which harmed the Congress most.
The party was made a family fiefdom and that sounded its death knell
Today, we say corruption in the ranks of the Congress in the times of Sonia Gandhi has reduced the party to ashes but this equating the party with the family wouldn't have occurred had Indira not made the Congress a fiefdom of the family. The democratic culture was so systematically destroyed and a culture of sycophancy was imbibed that hours within the assassination of Indira, her remaining son Rajiv was installed as the prime minister.
The day the family failed to deliver, the party started to struggle
It was always risky for the party in the long run to seek inspiration from the family for its survival. For, the day the family failed to deliver from within its ranks, the party's future looked uncertain.
Repeated losses across the country and also the worst-ever humiliation in the national election of 2014 under its future leader have hurt the Congress's confidence and with no Plan B to fall back on, it seems the 127-year-old party is now unable to arrest its slide.
With the deaths of Indira and Rajiv in less than a decade, the charisma factor was gone
The Congress had lost its roots long back and was making it up the charisma of the Gandhis. But with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi dying in less than a decade's time, the party's top rank was bound to see a vacuum and the inability of Sonia and Rahul to fill in the shoes of Indira and Rajiv has proved costly.
The rise of strong regional leaders and the new BJP under Narendra Modi have put Congress in a serious trouble
The Congress's problems have also been multiplied by the facts that apart from strong regional leaders, the BJP under Narendra Modi has put it in a tough competition. In the changing India of the 2010s, a traditional house like the Congress is finding it immensely difficult to compete with the BJP in terms of a tech-savvy administration.
The party's zero openness to reforms has made it almost impossible to survive the threats
Since the GOP's way of working is too centralised and several non-conforming groups within the party care little about anything apart from the family, there is very little possibility of any change coming from outside either.
We are seeing how master strategist Prashant Kishor is struggling to carry out the same reforms (which though again reverts to Rahul Gandhi) which he can do in other parties.
The Congress has found itself stuck in a cul-de-sac. Its strength, which is the Gandhi family, is also its weakness today, since Rahul Gandhi has not delivered despite a million attempts.
Had Rajiv been alive today, may be the Congress could have a second option to fall back on after Rahul's failure
Rajiv Gandhi was no exceptional politician but had he been there today (he would have been 72), the Congress could yet run back to the iron lady's son after Rahul's failure. But with no option to fall back on (Priyanka did not take serious interest in politics and Sonia Gandhi's health not doing well), the Congress has come to a standstill and will eventually die a slow death.