Its own enemy

Congress, which feels no need to speak to the people, also seems incapable of hearing them

Despite the rout in the assembly polls, the Congress party has conveyed no impression of having understood the pervasive anger with its record in power. Party vice president Rahul Gandhi spoke of having heard the people's message with his heart as well as his mind, but in almost the same breath, interpreted the results as a cue that he should continue with his pet project of restructuring the party, promising to bring change that the voters could "not even imagine". Instead of listening with humility, analysing the losses and accepting how it erred, the party seems to have rapidly worked in the verdict to do what it has been doing so far, spinning a web of justifications and rationalisations. The question is not what the party could not have helped Modi's roaring challenge, the AAP's capture of the popular imagination, the appeal of opposition chief ministers but what it could have reformed about itself, and didn't. The Congress has been its own chief underminer, on many fronts. These results are only one consequence of the dysfunction.

First, it has a leadership problem. While Rahul Gandhi has been put in direct charge of the party, he seems remarkably unconcerned with things like elections, preferring to gaze into the distance and talk sagely of systemic transformation. He almost never takes the lead on policy matters, or even communicates his views in Parliament. He gives the impression of charting his own lonely path, and of being utterly detached from the party's pitch to the people. To add to it, that the government and party are out of sync, and cannot script and own a common story, is no longer a matter of speculation. The dissonance between the party's public positions and the UPA's decisions have repeatedly embarrassed the prime minister, slowed the government's reflexes, and diluted its authority and credibility. It has also been observed and punished by voters. In the wake of the assembly results, Sheila Dikshit has spoken of having received no support from the party for her campaign. NCP leader Sharad Pawar, the UPA's chief ally, has written about the costs of indecisive leadership.

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