Crises can become moments of opportunity for those who can decipher the root cause and are willing to remedy it. The 2019 Lok Sabha election results unravelled the deep crisis within the Congress party. This has led to many calls for a reorganisation of the Congress party. While there are disagreements about how this reorganisation should happen, there is a consensus that the party needs to become more democratic and have a more significant grassroots presence. The rejuvenation of the party, they say, has to begin from below. Once the party has reorganised itself, the argument goes, it would lead to the emergence of independent leaders, who will inspire the masses, and the Congress will get back to its winning ways.
While we agree that the Congress party indeed needs an overhaul, the ‘organisational rejuvenation’ argument is frankly a stretch for two reasons. First, the link between a party’s organisation and its electoral success is grossly overestimated. Second, even if there is a positive relationship between the two, party organisation building does not happen in thin air – it needs a glue that binds the various components of the party on the ground, especially when it is out of power.
The role of organisational variable in determining party fortunes is greatly exaggerated. The Congress has had both spectacular successes with virtually no organisation and electoral failures with the same level of organisation. Congress won the assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, and competed hard in Gujarat with a sclerotic organisation locally and dynastic leaders at the top. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always had an active organisation backing it – the Rashtriya Swayamevak Sangh (RSS) and its various affiliates. But, neither the size of the RSS nor its reach has expanded as dramatically as the vote share of the BJP has expanded in the past few years. It strains the imagination to believe that the BJP made massive inroads in West Bengal and Odisha in this election, or its success in the northeast in the past few years is because of its superior local organisational skills.
Many regional parties in India, even some of the larger ones, do not have robust local organisations. They too are dynastic. They have continued to perform relatively better than the Congress and haven’t declined as much. In a comprehensive study of party decline in Eastern Europe, Elisabeth Bakke and Nick Sitter show that a strong organisation with many members is far less important than commonly believed.
Parties fail and die because of splits and because they lose their raison d’être. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, and the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) in Andhra Pradesh are led by politicians who were all part of the Congress party at one time. They see no ideological differences between themselves and the Congress.
Congress needs to work better under its current leadership of Gandhi family and propagate its vision in a better way to the grassroots level of Indian masses and that is the only way for the party to spring back to success it once enjoyed.