Congress’ Path to Revival: Empowering Marginalized Communities to Challenge BJP’s Ascendancy
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Congress’ Path to Revival: Empowering Marginalized Communities to Challenge BJP’s Ascendancy

In the historical context of Indian politics, the Congress has been traditionally associated with Brahmin leadership, a legacy that has cultivated an image of elitism and exclusion among Dalits, Adivasis and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) — who are pivotal segments of the electorate.

The dynamic shifts within India’s political terrain paint a striking picture of the Congress party, formerly a dominant force now facing a gradual decline. A crucial element behind this decline is the rise of Brahmin ideology and leadership within the party, yet without translating into electoral support. To rejuvenate its prospects and effectively counter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the grand old party must pivot towards a transformative approach that empowers the diverse array of marginalized communities.

In the historical context of Indian politics, the Congress has been traditionally associated with Brahmin leadership, a legacy that has cultivated an image of elitism and exclusion among Dalits, Adivasis and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) — who are pivotal segments of the electorate.

This Brahmin-centric focus has particularly weakened the party’s standing in Uttar Pradesh, where these communities form a substantial demographic. Feeling marginalized and underappreciated, these groups have increasingly aligned with alternative political factions, contributing to the erosion of the party’s support base in the region.

The BJP has undergone a significant transformation from being perceived as a party primarily for upper castes to becoming a more inclusive political force over the past two decades. Initially forming alliances with parties representing backward and Dalit communities to gain political traction, the saffron party has successfully broadened its appeal while maintaining its core ideology.

This strategic shift has enabled the BJP to dominate the political landscape, exemplified by its strong performance in Uttar Pradesh’s 2024 Lok Sabha elections, where it secured 79% of the upper-caste vote despite facing an alliance between Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP).

To reclaim its influence, the Congress must fully embrace Dalit, Adivasi and OBC leadership and perspectives at the forefront. These communities became politically awakened, realizing that the Congress sought their votes while perpetuating Brahmin dominance.

This realization hastened the Congress's decline as these groups shifted their allegiance to parties that resonated more closely with their identities and aspirations.

Drawing lessons from the BJP, the Congress must skillfully promote leaders from backward communities like Yadavs in Madhya Pradesh, Sainis in Haryana, and tribal leaders in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, all while maintaining its support among upper castes.

The BJP's ability to navigate these dynamics without being pigeonholed as Brahmin-dominated illustrates the importance of inclusive representation for achieving political success.

Overcoming internal opposition poses a significant hurdle to the Congress party's pursuit of Bahujanisation.

In Uttar Pradesh, the party’s upper-caste leadership,  including figures like Avinash Pandey, Rajeev Shukla, Ajay Rai and Pramod Tiwari, holds prominent positions and has shown reluctance to champion Rahul Gandhi’s social justice agenda, such as advocating for a caste-based census. This internal resistance highlights a division that Gandhi must confront to steer the party towards embracing inclusivity effectively.

Embracing a commitment to social justice and inclusivity must form the cornerstone of the Congress’s revival under his leadership. By sidelining resistant leaders and cultivating a new cadre that reflects India’s diverse population, the party can rebuild its connection with voters. This transformative approach not only aims to strengthen support among marginalized communities but also signifies a genuine effort to address their concerns and aspirations.

In Uttar Pradesh, the demographic landscape is remarkably diverse. Muslims constitute approximately 19% of the state’s population and have historically played a crucial role in electoral outcomes.

However, electoral dynamics have evolved significantly over the past decade. Previously, a 25-28% vote share often secured victory, but today’s political landscape is characterized by a stark polarization.

To remain competitive, the Congress must expand its voter base substantially, aiming for a robust 40-45% share to ensure electoral success both within the state and on the national stage.

To garner essential additional support, the Congress must not only advocate for Dalit and OBC leadership but also genuinely promote social equality. Mere rhetoric is insufficient; the party must cultivate and elevate new leaders from these communities to amplify their voices within the state's political landscape.

With Dalits comprising about 21% and OBCs around 42% of the population, these groups form a significant majority. The Congress’s current “upper-caste” leadership has struggled to connect with them, as evidenced by a CSDS survey indicating 79% of “upper-caste” voters leaning towards the BJP. This demographic shift underscores the urgent need for the Congress to rebuild its base among Dalits and OBCs.

Looking ahead, the Congress stands at a crucial crossroads where its survival and resurgence depend on transformation. Drawing lessons from the BJP’s strategic inclusivity and reflecting on its own historical decline, the party must transcend Brahmanisation.

Embracing SC/ST/OBCs is not just a strategic necessity but a moral imperative for the Congress to ensure inclusive representation and social justice. This transformation, though challenging, is essential for the party to effectively challenge the BJP and reaffirm its role as a champion of India’s diverse democracy.

While the Congress showed promise in Uttar Pradesh during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, winning more votes than the BSP despite contesting fewer seats and capturing six constituencies — its best performance since 2009 — sustainable success requires more than Gandhi’s pledges. It is time for the party to turn its promises into concrete actions.

Initiating this transformation could involve appointing a Dalit or OBC leader to lead its efforts in the state, signaling a commitment to genuine inclusivity. Moreover, a substantial overhaul of its political affairs committee is imperative.

Currently dominated by “upper-caste” members, including 16 “upper-caste” Muslims, with minimal OBC and Dalit representation, this committee must be restructured to reflect true inclusivity and equitable leadership. This shift will ensure the Congress not only speaks of equality but embodies it in its core operations.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of any organization, institution, or individual mentioned in the text.

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