India’s Oldest Political Party Tries to Take on Modi Government

‘India witnessing the death of democracy,’ says Rahul Gandhi . . .

On Friday, the Indian National Congress, currently the main opposition party to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), organized nationwide protests against the Modi government’s policies on inflation and unemployment. The main protests were held in the capital city of New Delhi. Police detained more than 300 protesters, including senior Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Over the last two months, Congress has also protested the Indian Government’s abuse of independent agencies to harass political opponents and dissidents. For instance, this year, Congress leaders were subjected to several rounds of questioning by the Enforcement Directorate, an independent agency, over a 2013 money laundering complaint.

Party’s historic role in Indian politics . . .

As India’s oldest political party, Congress led the country’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule and played a crucial role post-independence in rebuilding the country. It was a significant political power well into the 1990s, but since its defeat in the 2014 general election, Congress’s national presence has declined sharply. It lost 88 per cent of its seats in the 2019 general elections and suffered heavy losses in the state elections in March of 2022. Currently, Congress holds power in only two states – Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. With the BJP’s increased popularity in both national and state elections, India has no viable national opposition party other than a group of regional parties led by Congress.

Is Congress destined for extinction?

In September, Congress will elect a new president to replace the interim president, Sonia Gandhi, who has health issues. The most likely candidate will be Sonia’s son and the de facto head of the party, Rahul Gandhi. He resigned as party president in the wake of the dismal 2019 general election results. Analysts have raised questions about Congress’s over-dependence on the Gandhi family brand and whether it is costing the party dearly. If Congress hopes to survive in Indian politics, it must defend its seat in the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh state elections in 2023. Also, ahead of the 2024 general elections, it will have to find a way to counter BJP’s populist politics and form a united opposition alliance.