May 19, 2014

Congress 44: Is it time for a reverse merger?

The Congress is down to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, a staggering loss of 162 seats since 2009. How has this happened? To understand it, one needs to see the event in context.

In its long and chequered history, the Congress has split several times. I am not referring to the historical Congress of the freedom movement but the more recent political party dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Every state leader who has broken away from the Congress in recent memory has had to go back, tail between legs.

The First Citizen of India, in an earlier incarnation, set up his own breakaway party in West Bengal, contested all 294 seats in the 1987 assembly election and won precisely nothing. The outgoing Finance Minister of India was member of a party that came out of the Congress in Tamil Nadu in 1996. Less than a decade later, the bravado was gone. He was trying to find his way back. Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra set up his party in 1999, but was allying with the Congress in five years. Today, his party, the NCP, is an also-ran, a small appendage of a shrinking Congress.

The one and only leader, since Independence, who has moved away from the Congress and succeeded is Mamata Banerjee. The Trinamool Congress won 34 seats in West Bengal, only 10 seats lower than the Congress’ all-India figure. The party which was started on January 1, 1998, won 19 Lok Sabha seats in 2009, and a thumping majority in the West Bengal Assembly in 2011. Both these famous victories were won when the Trinamool was in alliance with the Congress. What makes the 2014 win even more satisfying is that the party won 34 seats and 40% of the vote share, all on its own.

In the old days, the Congress inevitably subsumed breakaway groups and dissident parties as these groups and parties lost vitality. Today, the Congress itself is on the ropes. Is it time for a reverse merger? The Congress is a party in search of strong leaders. It has driven out its strong leaders. Congress workers know where to find them.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress