From left, Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi, her son and party President Rahul Gandhi, and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attend a Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi, May 25, 2019.
From left, Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi, her son and party President Rahul Gandhi, and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attend a Congress Working Committee meeting in New Delhi, May 25, 2019.

NEW DELHI - It was India’s “Grand Old Party.” The Congress Party ruled the country for 55 out of 71 years since independence. But following the party’s crushing electoral debacle for a second time, there are questions about its future as the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty at its helm is unable to counter the most powerful leader India has produced in decades: Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
 
Contrary to expectations, India’s mammoth general election turned out to be virtually a no-contest between Modi and Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi as it became a presidential-style battle.
 
“It is not what went wrong with the Congress, it is more of a story of what went right for Prime Minister Modi. He stood as a tall leader, as an achiever, as somebody who understood people’s aspirations,” says political commentator Rasheed Kidwai, who has authored a biography of Rahul Gandhi’s mother, Sonia Gandhi. On the other hand, “Rahul Gandhi is temperamentally not a power wielder. He is a trustee of power.”
 

Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi, addresses the media after the release of Congress party's manifesto for the upcoming general elections, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, April 2, 2019.
Opposition Leader Gandhi Promises Indians Cash, Jobs and Cleaner Air
India's main opposition Congress party vowed Tuesday to end abject poverty by 2030, hand cash to 50 million families and tackle the "emergency" of air pollution as it unveiled its election manifesto.Recent opinion polls, although notoriously unreliable, suggest Congress is trailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of India's almost six-week mega-election beginning April 11.In its 55-page manifesto, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said Modi has offered only …

The sixth member of the Nehru Gandhi family to lead the party, Rahul is often seen as a “reluctant politician”, despite his spirited campaign to revive the party and challenge Modi after its rout in 2014.
 
Gandhi’s rallies drew crowds, but his efforts to project Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party as a threat to India’s secular traditions or to highlight issues of economic distress failed to resonate. His attempts to nail him for corruption in a deal to buy Rafale French fighter jets fell flat. His promise of a minimum wage for India’s poorest families was met with skepticism, even among the poor.
 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during an election campaign rally of his Bharatiya Janata Party in Hyderabad, India, April 1, 2019. India's general elections will be held in seven phases starting April 11.
For India’s Modi, Symbolism is Political Strategy
In the Indian city Hindus consider the center of the world, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has commissioned a grand promenade connecting the sacred Ganges River with the centuries-old Vishwanath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, the god of destruction.It’s a project dripping with equal parts symbolism — Modi, the devout Hindu, restoring the ancient connection between two religious icons — and political calculation.

On the other hand, Modi, successfully wooed voters with his message of strident nationalism and subtle appeal to the majority Hindu community. Along with it, there was another theme: he projected himself as the humble son of a tea seller, a self made man who fought all odds to reach the top post in contrast to what he called the “entitled” Gandhi who had inherited the mantle of leadership of the Congress Party.
 
It drew cheers from the country’s emerging middle and lower-middle classes, exhausted with dynastic politics.
 
The Congress Party’s tally of 52 seats in parliament was only a notch higher than the 44 seats it won in 2014 in the 545-member parliament. The party’s candidates returned empty-handed in half the Indian states and in several others the party only mustered a single digit tally.Modi's BJP won 303 seats.
 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures toward his supporters after the election results at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarter in New Delhi, India, May 23, 2019.
Modi Wins Resounding Victory in India
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to build a "strong and inclusive" country as the charismatic but polarizing leader swept back to power in the world's largest democracy with an even bigger mandate than he won five years ago. "Thank you India," the prime minister tweeted. "The faith placed in our alliance is humbling and gives us strength to work even harder to fulfill people's aspirations."Thank you India! The faith placed in our alliance is humbling and gives us strength to work even…

The scale of its losses not just crushed hopes the Congress Party would either lead a credible challenge to Modi or return as invigorated opposition - it once again raised questions over the leadership of the Gandhi family.
 
Rahul Gandhi has offered to resign, but expectedly the party that has no second rung of leadership has turned it down. “The party will fulfill its role as a strong opposition. We need Rahul Gandhi to lead us in these challenging times,” Congress Party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said after a meeting of the party’s senior leaders on the weekend.

Rahul Gandhi also lost the Amethi constituency the party had held for 50 years in Uttar Pradesh state. In another humiliating blow for the Gandhi family, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who was appointed in a senior post to revive the party, failed to make an impact. Rahul's mother, Sonia Gandhi, won her party's only seat in the state.

India's Congress party President Rahul Gandhi, center, gestures with the party's general secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, right, and Jyotiraditya Scindia, left, by his side during a rally in Lucknow, India, Feb. 11, 2019.
Gandhi Scion Comes Into His Own as India Polls Near Finish
With India's general election inching toward the finish line, the battle for one seat in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh is being closely watched to see whether the scion of the country's most important modern political dynasty can retain his seat and revive his party's fortunes. After 15 years in politics, Rahul Gandhi is beginning to articulate a vision for India that some observers say is making him a more credible leader.

Rahul Gandhi’s victory in another constituency in South India means he will continue to be a lawmaker.
 
Dynastic politics is not limited to the Congress Party: lawmakers from political families are a routine feature of Indian politics.
 
But political commentators say in an era showing a preference for strong, populist leaders, Modi was the clear victor.
 
“There is a new sense of nationalism sweeping across many conventional democracies. There is a yearning for a strong leader that captures the public imagination,” according to political analyst Ajoy Bose. “I don’t really see the conventional Congress Party or the conventional leadership mounting a challenge to Modi. He has completely taken the country by storm.”
 
Gandhi tried to give a positive message after the party’s rout. “We have a different vision of India [from Modi]”, said the head of the party that has long projected itself as a defender of India’s minorities, such as Muslims who worry about religious polarization and a rise in hate crimes since Modi came to power. "There is no need to be afraid. We will continue to work hard and we will eventually win."
 
But it may be difficult to reinvent what analysts call a “fading party.” They say Modi’s BJP now occupies the dominant political space that the Congress party did for decades. “Congress is going to get reduced to, you know, like the Liberals did in Britain,” says Rasheed Kidwai.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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