If there was a single factor common to both Maharashtra and Haryana, which went to polls on Monday, it was the absence of the opposition or the alternative narrative. This does not augur well for a healthy democracy. However, the opposition has only itself to blame for the sense of ennui that has come to grip the two States. Both were Congress bastions till a few years ago but have since slipped out of its hands because of a leadership vacuum at the top and dissensions on the ground. Five months after its comprehensive electoral rout in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has gone into a tailspin with the central leadership helplessly watching the State-level factions washing their dirty linen in public and senior leaders deserting the party. In Maharashtra, a steady stream of defections from the Congress and the NCP to the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine, the widening gulf between the two warring factions of Sanjay Nirupam and Milind Deora and a completely hands-off approach by party president Sonia Gandhi, who chose to skip the campaigning, have made it virtually a no-contest election. Moreover, the BJP government’s promise of 12% reservations for Marathas appears to have weaned the influential community, who form 31% of the State population, from the NCP-Congress combine. In Haryana, the party has been hamstrung by several factions: former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Kumari Selja, Randeep Singh Surjewala, former State unit chief Ashok Tanwar, who has since quit, and Kuldeep Bishnoi.
Instead of uniting to challenge incumbent BJP governments, Congress State units in both Haryana and Maharashtra were focused on local fixing of scores and turf protection. In sharp contrast to the directionless drift at the top in the Congress, the BJP presents a structured, cohesive and combative campaign structure. With the BJP building a political dominance not seen since Indira Gandhi’s heydays, the Congress clearly needs an organisational reboot. Simply relying on a glorious past will be a terrible mistake. In the interest of healthy democracy, the Congress needs radical surgery to become a robust opposition. The friction between the party’s old guard and the new generation leaders, disconnect with voters, lack of dynamism, confused political agenda and lack of trust in the leadership are some of the key factors that are accelerating the slide of the Congress. What is baffling is that senior party leaders often talk in different voices on important matters concerning national security and economy. There were expectations that Sonia’s return would help the party put up a more cohesive and united face. But, the old guard has used the occasion to consolidate its hold over party affairs and is largely seen to be scuttling reforms and transition of power.