The Congress is a party which has ruled India the most than anybody else. It was a dominant party between 1947 and 1967 and though it lost much of its sheen in the late 1960s, it took another decade to topple it from power at the Centre for the first time. It was back to power after a hiatus of three years and continued till 1989 when it was voted out for the second time. [Flashback 2014: The rise of Narendra Modi]
The Congress could never again form a government of its own at the Centre since 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi garnered a massive majority and its subsequent governments were all coalition in nature (the minority government of PV Narasimha Rao between 1991 and 1996 and the two governments led by Manmohan Singh between 2004 and 2009 and 2009 and 2014).
The mother-son duo has failed to deliver for the grand-old party.
Congress's Lok Sabha tally went down to two digits in 2014
The decline of the grand-old party was seen over the years but 2014 has been the worst for the party which completes 129 years this year. In 1989, when the Congress's tally in the Lok Sabha went down from over 400 to below 200, thanks to the Bofors charge against Rajiv Gandhi, it was believed that the party had reached its nadir.
But in 2014, the party led by Rajiv's widow Sonia Gandhi and their son Rahul Gandhi (partially by daughter Priyanka also) touched a new low and its tally was brought down from above 200 to below 50. This is the lowest the Congress could manage since 1952 when the first election was held in India.
Manmohan Singh made a decent beginning as the prime minister but was never in control of things in UPA II
And this is not all. The Congress has failed to deliver in a number of states since the 2009 parliamentary election and lost key states over the last five years, including Delhi, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh (now divided), Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Haryana. Currently, Karnataka is the only big state where the Congress has a government of its own. It is in the ruling coalition in some other states or is in power in some north-eastern states.
Congress never looks to be in the competition now
Wins or losses are part and parcel of elections but what is worrying for the Congress is that it has not been able to win the power back in many states for years now and has been pushed to the third or fourth position in those states. In states like West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu, the Congress has remained a fringe player and is becoming irrelevant with each passing day.
The latest election in Maharashtra saw the Congress falling short of even the second position in the final result. The current leadership of the Gandhis has clearly failed to turn around the decades of stagnation that the party has undergone in these states.
The party could not find any answer to Narendra Modi
But why did the Congress fail to do things as it had promised to the people after meeting a serious disaster in the four assembly elections held in December 2013?
In those elections, it not only lost two key states, it also failed to challenge the BJP and negate the appeal of rival Narendra Modi among the voters. Congress leaders were found mocking and criticising Modi whenever they found an opportunity to do so but the party went on biting the dust when it came to facing Modi in the battle of the ballots.
The Congress suffered a humongous loss in the Lok Sabha election and backed it up with another two defeats in Maharashtra and Haryana. Two more states, namely, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand are currently undergoing the polls and more bad news could be in store for the party on December 23 when results come out.
No credibility left with the Gandhis and neither leaders other than Gandhis can hope to hold the party together
The party's biggest drawback today is that there is leader with credibility left in the family that runs it. Indira Gandhi undoubtedly sacrificed the party's horizontal growth at the altar of her family's vertical growth but she was still a force to make a difference. Her son Rajiv Gandhi was a naïve in politics but yet he had the capacity to sell dreams, particularly to the youth.
The assassination of both these charismatic Gandhis within a span of seven years and the death of a number of other medium-stature leaders in the party left it weakened. The Congress was facing a serious crisis in the late 1990s after losing the elections of 1996 and 1998 and it again took a Sonia Gandhi to take up the cause. She put a lot of hard work to bring the party back to power in 2004 but declined the prime ministership herself.
Dual power centre model seriously dented the authority of Manmohan Singh as the prime minister
But the dual power centre model of the Congress-led UPA in the next 10 years proved counter-productive both for Sonia Gandhi and her chosen prime minister Manmohan Singh. The failure of Rahul Gandhi to rise to the occasion despite his party creating opportunities for him to rock the stage proved to be a serious setback for the Gandhi-centric party.
Rahul Gandhi has failed to boost the party
Just like Sonia Gandhi brought the party back in reckoning after a series of poll debacles in the late 1990s and Narendra Modi did wonders for the BJP after the loss in 2004 and 2009, the Congress needs to find a leader who can make it a serious competitor in the future elections. Rahul Gandhi won't work certainly. Now it is for the grand-old party to find a new shoulder to rest itself on.
The Congress's weak position has left its leaders clueless
Since the huge loss on May 16, 2014, the Congress surprisingly has not been able to set out an agenda to make a return. Rahul Gandhi has been seen storming the well in the Parliament after he was caught sleeping or running to Vishakhapatnam following a severe cyclone or to Chhattisgarh after a sterilisation programme went wrong or to the rescue of slum dwellers in Delhi. But all these looked to be bits-and-pieces politics, bereft of any vision or constructive thinking.
Congress also takes little interest in engaging more with the electorate unlike Modi and BJP
The party has also refused to learn from the way PM Narendra Modi engages with the electorate, i.e., through use of social media. Leaders like Shashi Tharoor are exceptions.The Congress continues to be more of a traditional outfit but that has not helped its cause.
Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor is one of those few Congressmen who have played the role of a responsible member of Opposition after the Lok Sabha debacle by engaging with the Modi govt's actions.
The Congress's continuous slide has many historical reasons, one being the practice of pseudo-secularism. The politics of minority appeasement has served the other regional parties that have capitalised on the Congress's collapse over the years, more. But now with the leadership also taking a serious beating and possibility of a fresh leadership emerging looking bleak, the plight of 2014 might just be the beginning for the party with a glorious past.