Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress leader, in his letters and interviews, has called for sweeping democratic changes in the Congress Party for its revival. He spoke of 'the sorry state of affairs in the party' and said that the Congress was not seen by the public as 'an effective alternative' to the BJP. He wanted collective leadership and democratic processes in selecting the leaders, instead of nominations from above.
Others blame Rahul Gandhi as lacking in 'aggressive and impressive' spirit, and say that the Congress leadership is falling short. Yet others say that the Central and state units of Congress are out of sync.
There is no doubt some truth in all these allegations. In the recent state elections in Bihar, the Congress performed poorly, as it did in the by-elections in several states ( in the recent Lok Sabha by-elections in Gujarat, all three Congress candidates lost their deposits ).
However, it is submitted that neither Kapil Sibal nor the others have analysed the malady of Congress in any depth.
After Independence, the Congress emerged with a tremendous reputation for having led the Independence struggle in India. For this reason, it swept most of the elections, both in the Centre and the states.
However, public memory is short, and the Congress leaders soon realised that they could not keep winning elections merely on this reputation alone.
India is a semi-feudal country, in which caste and religion are powerful forces. So the Congress forged an alliance which could ensure victory in future elections too. This consisted of three main groups (1) upper castes (2) Muslims (3) Scheduled Castes.
In large north Indian states like UP and Bihar, upper castes ( Brahmins, Rajputs, Banias, Bhumihars etc ) altogether constituted about 16-18 per cent of the population, Muslims constituted about 16-18 per cent, and Scheduled Castes constituted about 20 per cent. This alliance meant over 50 per cent of the voters, and since for winning an election one required a little over 30 per cent votes, Congress used to sweep the elections all over India for several decades after Independence.
This alliance has now fallen apart. The upper castes have shifted their allegiance to the BJP, the Muslims left Congress after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 ( and allied themselves to SP in UP and RJD in Bihar ), and in UP the Scheduled Castes formed their own party, the BSP ( which also has a presence in some other states ).
Consequently, the Congress is now left with no caste or religious vote bank. No doubt it manages to win some seats, but that is either because of the individual following of a candidate, or by riding piggyback on some other party (like the RJD in Bihar ) whose votes it gets when in alliance.
So, despite the forlorn wailing and dolorous lament of Kapil Sibal and others, one cannot see any future for the Congress. In India, most people vote as vote banks, but which caste or religion does Congress represent now? I am afraid none.
Even if there is a change in its leadership, and even if democratic processes are introduced, as Kapil Sibal demands, what difference will that make? Surely that will not give it a caste or religious vote bank.
I submit that the days of the Grand Old Party are over.
Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.