It was just a few months after the General Elections in 2014. Some young leaders of the Congress, both from the Youth Congress and the NSUI, met a senior leader and aired their frustration about the depths to which the party had plumbed. The leader reportedly told the delegation that the party had little options and has to wait it out. He added that the time may come within two years.
Perhaps the right time has come with the Bihar verdict. Congress won 27 seats as part of the Grand Alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U). The question now is can the Congress cash in on any anti-BJP sentiment in the country and how will they go about it?
After the Lok Sabha poll rout which reduced the party to just 44 MPs, the Congress faced a series of defeats in Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, where the BJP won. In Delhi, the winner was not the BJP and it was not the Congress either. The Congress could not win any seats in the state, which it had ruled for ruled 15 years.
However there was a silver lining in this defeat, as it signalled Modi’s diminishing appeal as a vote winner and proved that there is still political space to manoeuvre, if the Congress played its cards right.
Party president Sonia Gandhi sensed the situation and she did not miss out on any chance to take on the Modi government since then. She led the fight both in the Parliament and outside on the Land Acquisition Act. She took out a march to Rashtrapati Bhavan along with 14 other Opposition parties and showed the Congress is eager to take the lead in national politics, once again. The government finally bowed to the demands on the Land Acquisition Act. Around this time, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi came back after a two month sabbatical with fresh face and energy.
In the 2010 Bihar Assembly and 2012 UP Assembly elections, the Congress had contested alone and was badly mauled. It was Rahul’s decision not to enter into any alliances. However, his return also signalled a shift in strategy. Congress’ decision to contest alongside the JD ( U) and the RJD in Bihar came as a surprise to many.
Some claim that it was the Congress which worked backstage to set-up the Grand Alliance. When Lalu was initially reluctant to join hands with Nitish, it was the Congress which took the decision first to join Nitish, followed by Lalu. So the question is why did the Congress contest as a small player in Bihar poll and is the party really comfortable with coalition politics in future, where they would be a junior partner?