By Soroor Ahmed
The Indian National Congress is not the only prominent political party in the world which is facing crisis of existence. There were parties in much older democracies which either breathed their last or simply faded into oblivion or merged with another one after being the ruling outfit for quite a long time in their respective countries.
The Federalist Party in the United States and Whigs in United Kingdom had played a significant role in the initial years of democracy in these two countries, yet they were buried in the history of the 19th century.
The second President of the United States, John Adams belonged to the Federalist Party but this party never came to power after only one term (1797-1801). It was dissolved in 1835. In fact, the first President George Washington did not belong to any particular party, though he was ideologically tilted towards the Federalist Party.
The Federalist was replaced by the Democratic Republican Party in 1801 and the latter ruled the country for 28 years. By mid-19th century the USA had a number of political parties which came to power and subsequently vanished. It was only after 1860s that Democratic and Republican alternatively ruled the country.
Similarly, the Whigs (1678-1859) was the main party in Britain in the first half of the 18th century. Its contributions in Glorious Revolution of 1688 cannot be underestimated. The first chief minister (as prime minister was initially called) Robert Walpole was a Whig so were William Pitt the Elder, Lord Palmerston, etc. prominent PMs. But by 1859 the same Whig got merged with Liberal. The Liberal, which had emerged as a ruling party, had later in the history got splintered. The main parties of England now are Conservative and Labour.
Political party emerges as per the demand of the situation in any country or state. After sometime it loses its relevance and vanishes. Some live long while some others die young. This is a global phenomenon.
In India the Indian National Congress came into being in 1885 as per the historical demand of the situation. But by the early 20th century the party changed its character and gradually turned out to be the main party which fought for the independence of the country.
However, there was a view that the Congress should be dissolved after Independence as it has outlived its utility. Some people even quote Mahatma Gandhi in this regard. The Father of the Nation was never its member.
As there was no other all-India mass organisation in the scene, it continued to rule the country uninterruptedly for the first 30 years. But the decline started later.
In the post-1947 years the Communists and Socialists of different hues emerged as an alternative. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh and regional parties too started growing up. Several of these ideologically different parties joined hands in the states and removed the Congress from power in 1967.
At the national level this experiment was made in the election held in 1977 at the fag end of Emergency. But the Janata Party which came into existence after the merger of several parties got split and in 1980 the Congress returned to power. Another such experiment was made in 1989 – this time named Janata Dal – but it too ended up in a split in 1990.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and subsequent withering away of Communism from the then Soviet Union came as a shot in arm to the religious parties across the world. This was the time when the Left-to-Centre parties like Congress started facing a big challenge. The Janata Dal, which splintered into different regional outfits, were also the Left-to-Centre parties and they ate up each other’s votes. In the process they all got weakened.
The change in global situation provided an opportunity for the parties espousing the cause of cultural-nationalism to grow. The advent of private television channels and social media also came in handy for such parties.
This development was not only confined to India, but to several other countries too. The vacuum caused by the weakening of Left and Left-to-Centre parties was rapidly filled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the new version of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh.
Even in Israel, where the Left-to-Centre Zionist party ruled for the first 29 years between 1948 and 1977, the situation is not much different. The same outfit is fighting for survival now. Like Congress in India, the Labour Party has now only seven members in Knesset (Parliament) of 120. The Labour actually came into existence in 1968 after the merger of Left-leaning Mapai, Ahdut HaAvoda and
As Congress in India, Mapai was the party which spearheaded the movement for the creation of the Jewish state. It ruled till 1968 and then till 1977 in the new incarnation of Labour Party. Almost all the political stalwarts were associated with it.
In 2021 Israel witnessed a rare development. Eight parties of totally different ideological views , including an Islamic Arab outfit joined forces to form the government to keep rightist Likud Party out of power. The Labour Party is just one of the eight constituents and the Prime Minister (Naftali Bennett) is not from it, but he is the MK of Yamina which has only six members in Parliament. This
development brought to an end the 12 years of Likud Party-led coalition rule under Benjamin Netanyahu. The latter was not just a rightist known for hawkish stand, but considered a corrupt and despotic ruler.
In India the situation is somewhat similar. The Congress which has lost much of its relevance may be compelled to join hands with other regional outfits on equal footing as this time the scenario may not be like that of the United Progressive Alliance years. If the party continues to lose more state Assembly polls, it may no more remain in position of the dominant party as during UPA-I and II (2004-2014).
There are many analysts and TV anchors , who without ever studying the history of rise and fall of political parties all over the world, are just busy heaping all the blame for the decline of Congress on one family only. This is not the whole truth.
The downward slide in Congress has been gradual and even shrewd politicians like Narasimha Rao and Pranab Mukherjee and the Sardar of Economics, Manmohan Singh, could not check it when there was no Sonia or Rahul Gandhi in the whole period between 1990 and 1999.
The irony of the situation is that though the upper castes and trading communities of the country hailed the Liberalisation policy of Rao and Manmohan Singh as they were the main beneficiaries yet the Congress was voted out of power in 1996, 1998 and 1999 polls. This is largely because an overwhelming number of these very class of the electorate opted for the BJP, which under Lal Krishna Advani was championing the cause of Ram Mandir.
It was in sheer desperation that senior Congress leaders brought Sonia Gandhi to replace the then party chief Sitaram Kesari, whom many blame for the mess in the GOP.
In the same way, no statesman or great war hero could stem the rot in Labour Party. Instead some hot-heads with hardly any political acumen emerged under the banner of Likud and its breakaway party, Kadima. In Israel the new migrants from the then Soviet Union and elsewhere voted for parties other than Labour.
The fact is that in India, not to speak of marketing man and poll strategist like Prashant Kishor, even a great orator and a leader with mass support base cannot immediately revive the Congress party. The coming together of all the non-BJP parties may be an option. But then there is always the issue of leadership, which had created problem in the past.