The criticality of a revival in Opposition politics in India today cannot be overstated. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s attempt at mass action with his Bharat Jodo Yatra is an expression of this political necessity but it needs to be viewed in the light of three simultaneous developments. The first is the declaration by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal that the “Congress is finished” and Aam Aami Party (AAP) would be contesting all the seats in the upcoming Gujarat assembly elections. AAP is running an energetic campaign in the western State where it has had no prior accomplishments. In contrast, the Congress is plagued by a series of high-profile defections and infighting. The second notable event took place in Goa where eight out of 11 MLAs in the State Congress Legislature Party merged with the BJP taking the NDA’s majority in the State Assembly to 33 in the 40-member House. The third is the Congress’s ongoing organisational elections wherein Rahul Gandhi’s declaration that neither he nor any member of his family would take the top job is being sharply contested by senior leaders who assert that the party continues to be run by Gandhi and his various “minions”. Whether Gandhi would be the next President or he wants to install his appointee in the driving seat is not yet clear while the chorus for him as President grows. These events underline the most critical faultline in the principal opposition party’s current revival strategy. This faultline lies in the Congress’s proclivity to confuse mass action with political strategy, programme, organisational strengthening and credible leadership.

To be sure, there is an undeniable correlation between mass action and mainstream politics easily understood in historic precedents such as the Ramjanmabhoomi movement that propelled the BJP’s meteoric rise. Or, in more contemporary times, Anna Hazare’s movement for Lok Pal crafting the downfall of the UPA and generating the kind of momentum that helped candidate Narendra Modi in the 2014 general elections and Arvind Kejriwal in the Delhi Assembly elections six months later. But the difference between these precedents and the Congress’s Yatra is that in all previous instances, mainstream parties that benefited from mass action had a ready strategy, political plan, organisational preparedness and leadership. In the case of the BJP, the Ramjanmabhoomi movement had a clear ideological agenda and ready leadership. When the BJP aligned with Anna Hazare’s movement in the period before the 2014 general election campaign, there was a simultaneous organisational rehaul that included ruthlessly ridding the top tier of the same old guard that had brought the party from the fringes to the mainstream of Indian politics. In June 2013, the then BJP President Rajnath Singh anointed Modi as the chairman of the party’s national election committee and de-facto PM candidate despite LK Advani resigning from all party posts over the decision. Similarly, in the case of AAP, Arvind Kejriwal literally designed and created his party in the aftermath of the anti-corruption movement.

The Congress’s present tack seems to not have factored in these realities as the Yatra meanders its way across the country with its political message of a more inclusive India and constitutionalism, as opposed to the BJP’s ultra-nationalism. These are noble ideas but bereft of strategy, organisational strengthening and leadership, such mass action would not amount to any significant revival of the Opposition space.

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