India: sunset of a dynasty, demise of the catch-all party

Less than three weeks before the announcement of the outcome of the general elections in India, one can already speak about the winner with about 75 percent certainty. But the loser can be announced with almost absolute certainty.

Looks like the Indian National Congress is now resigned to the inevitable. The latest evidence of this is the fact that instead of the heir apparent Rahul Gandhi, it is his sister Priyanka that has came to the fore of the election campaign for the party. But first, this has occurred too late, and second it came at a very bad time when scandals about the abuse of power during land acquisition are raging around the figures of Priyanka Gandhi and her husband Robert Vadra. Boris Volkhonsky, expert of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, comments on this topic.

Signs of the impending rout of the Congress are multiplying every day. This is almost officially declared by the party through its readiness to support the "third front" government formed by a number of small regional parties, that actually demotes it to the level of a junior partner in a future coalition, renouncing all claims to the premiership. This is also evidenced by the defection of a number of iconic figures in the party to the ranks of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Latest, but hardly the last in this list are Daljit Singh Kohli, stepbrother of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and former Minister of Textiles Kavuri Sambasiva Rao. Finally, the most striking evidence is that the bookmakers recently stopped taking bets on Rahul Gandhi 's premiership.

Against this background, Rahul’s sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has come to the fore in the election campaign of the Congress. Unlike her brother, she is a much more aggressive campaigner and has already earned the nickname "Gandhi with guts". However, it remains unclear why the present moment was selected for elevating Priyanka. Firstly, the campaign is coming to an end, and it is hardly possible for the Congress to overturn the negative trend in the remaining two weeks. Secondly, the figure of Priyanka is definitely not perceived unambiguously in Indian society.

However, the case is perhaps more serious than momentary tactical maneuvers by the Congress and its political opponents - continues Boris Volkhonsky. - In fact, this election can be considered a landmark and turning point in the modern history of India. And it does not matter whether the BJP wins, and if so, with what advantage. Congress has suffered defeat in the history independent India earlier also, but each time it has staged a revival and returned to power. The present moment has some fundamental differences.

Throughout the history of its existence, the Congress has claimed the status of the so-called catch-all party, appealing to society as a whole, and the political process in India for several decades could be described by the adage "Congress plus all others." Moreover, the combined potential of " all others " lagged far behind the Congress.

During the first 30 years of independence, the Congress monopoly on power was generally not questioned . The first alarm bell rang in 1977, when the Congress led by Indira Gandhi was defeated (and for many it came as a surprise) in the general election for the first time. In the years that followed the loss of the monopoly of power by Congress ran parallel to another process, the sunset of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which in the minds of most Indians is inextricably linked with this party.

Recent defections of several prominent Congress figures to the ranks of the opposition only continue the process that began long before this, - said Boris Volkhonski. - After all, at one time even the members of the Gandhi family – Maneka, the widow of Sanjay Gandhi, the youngest son of Indira Gandhi and her son Varun - joined the BJP . And the last minute attempt to make Priyanka Gandhi the face of Congress instead of Rahul Gandhi who has repeatedly proved his inability to conduct election campaigns only proves that the reserves of the dynasty have finally dried up.

The next five years will show if the Congress can stage a revival once again. However, it is already clear that this party will finally renounce claims to the role of "catch-all" party. Now Congress will have to become an ordinary party with its clear-cut ideology and act not in the framework of "Congress plus all others ", but in the normal two-party ( or perhaps three-party ) model of developed democracies. It has a niche in the form of a center-left liberal sector –says the Russian expert. There's only one problem: the growing ambitions of regional political forces that are capable of shattering not only the possible two-or three-party model, but also the entire fabric of the federal structure of the state.