With Congress in tatters across India, can Rahul change the party's fortunes?
When Rahul Gandhi was appointed Vice-president of the Congress party in January 2013, the party was in power at the Centre as well as in at least 14 states.
That expanse of power has now been reduced to a mere six states - most of them being small ones - as Gandhi moves on to what has always been his for taking: the position of Congress president.
A battle of perception
This shrinking of the party's presence doesn't mean just a routine shift in power. It's a full-fledged crisis. At 44 MPs, the party is still within the demoralising grasp of its worst electoral performance ever at the national level. The spunk seen in the party in its campaign for the ongoing Gujarat assembly polls is only a recent phenomenon.
Prior to that, a feeling of resignation was discernible among party cadres and leadership alike. The rout in 2014 at the hands of a resurgent BJP and an aggressive Narendra Modi was more than just an electoral defeat. That loss delivered a body-blow to the Congress, leaving cadres perplexed how the scion of the family ruling the party for decades failed to lead them to victory against a rival who was just a chief minister at that time.
Gandhi was not named the prime ministerial candidate, but he led the campaign. Post the defeat, post-mortems were conducted and one of the party's baggage identified was particularly revealing about the prevalent insecurities inside the party.
The AK Antony committee's report which wasn't made public, was but leaked, said that the party was trapped in a perception of minority-appeasement.
Party leaders and workers corroborated this in private conversations, saying pejoratively that the party had been reduced to “eesai-kasai ki party”. The BJP and Modi hadn't just won an election, they had sabotaged the morale of the Congress' foot-soldiers. They had uprooted the Congress' agenda and imposed their own, forcing the Congress to start following it.
This was visible in further electoral setbacks. 2014 onwards, the Congress lost elections in Delhi, Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur. It lost its government to political intrigue in Arunachal Pradesh and displayed rank incompetence by allowing BJP to come to power in Goa even after emerging as the single largest party.
Reaching new peaks
The party is now up against a mountain and it hasn't even begun the climb. The next Lok Sabha polls are just over a year away and there are several assembly elections to be won before that. For that, it is imperative for the ground-worker to regain confidence in the party's potential. The worker needs to believe that the party can win again.
BJP successfully set the agenda in 2014 and has only consolidated it after that, so far. Gandhi will have to create an agenda that will not merely counter the BJP's but put his party back in the imagination of the voter. Hints keep emerging that the Congress feels it has an anti-Hindu image and that gives the BJP an edge. This is a trap.
The Congress has always been associated with a middle of the centre ideological pinning. There is no certainty whether a shift to the right will make it emerge as a winner or merely a poor copy of the BJP. What is certain is that the voter will be left poorer in terms of his choice of ideology as it certainly will not be a new agenda.