The people have spoken, and how. They have given the Bharatiya Janata Party an emphatic simple majority in the Lok Sabha and brought the National Democratic Alliance within touching distance of the crucial two-third majority mark. They have dealt a crushing blow to the Congress; and left it struggling to reach even one-tenth of the total strength of the Lok Sabha. They have also undermined the politics of caste and minority that the socialist parties of the UP-Bihar belt thrived upon. What remains of the Opposition, if the word with a capital ‘O’ can be used now, is a bunch of rag-tag outfits that will sit across the ebullient and enlarged Treasury Benches in Parliament. Even the limited numbers will not matter if these parties function as a credible, cohesive opposition. But past record belies any reasonable expectation of the elected bunch in the Opposition Benches effectively utilising parliamentary debates. The preferred tactic of past Oppositions — raising ruckus and disrupting house proceedings — will not work this time against a brute majority. The Trinamool Congress, the AIADMK and the Biju Janata Dal, parties likely to become the bulwarks of the Opposition alongside the Congress, unless they cross over to the Treasury Benches, will have to rise beyond their regional mindsets and voice the federal aspirations of the larger country.
For the Congress, the ignominy of a historic defeat, poses challenges far beyond playing the role of a constructive opposition. The Congress has been wiped out in every direction. In states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra — sites of head-on clashes with the BJP — the party was decimated. The crushing blow that the BJP has dealt to the Congress morale goes far beyond their absolute numbers in Lok Sabha. Narendra Modi reinvented the BJP building upon the solid platform laid out for him by the redoubtable RSS grassroots network and popular BJP state governments, which are seen countrywide as models of good governance. In contrast, the Congress, stripped bare of credible leaders, has nowhere to hide and nowhere to look for succour. The myth of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s national appeal also stands exposed. Other than holding the Congress party together against the fissiparous tendencies of its leaders, the family has little goodwill to draw upon. The disconnect with the everyday lives of the toiling masses and the aspirational classes was evident from the hubris of continued reliance on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru and the martyrdom of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
As for its star campaigner, Rahul Gandhi, missing in action for long and crucial spells when the UPA government dawdled in a sea of incompetence and indecision, his admission of total responsibility for the defeat, passed off without contrition or a token offer to resign. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi and other defeated chief ministers have offered their resignations. Ironically, the Gandhis, more culpable for this defeat, can claim immunity. In her admission of defeat, Sonia Gandhi reiterated that the Congress would uphold its traditions, values and programmes. People across India have lost touch with the Congress.
Reporters filed dispatches noting the absence of any visible Congress organisational activity in many districts despite being in the midst of elections. Like the Mughal dynasty in the 19th century, the Congress experiment with the Gandhi-Nehru leadership is a model that has run its course. A field in disarray leaves Modi king of all he surveys.