This post will probably come back to haunt me. Later this year, there will be elections in BJP ruled states, and there is a chance that anti-incumbency will bring the Congress back to power there. Next year there will be a general election and the Congress may yet win it, and you guys will come back to this post and mock me for it. But what the hell, here is my view. For what it is worth, I held the same view after the 2004 elections.
I believe that the Congress is in irreversible decline. It may win one election and lose the next, but the trend is towards a decline. In a decade, it will be like Saltanat-e-Shah Alam: Az Dilli ta Palam. (The Sultanate of Shah Alam, a latter day Mughal “emperor” that stretched all the way from Delhi to Palam – then a village on the outskirts.)
I believe that the decline is not fixable, which is why it is irreversible. It is in irreversible decline because it is not in anyone’s interest to fight the trend, not even that of The Family. Of course, The Family would love to have a 400-seat majority that Rajiv Gandhi enjoyed, but to achieve that, they will need to build the organization and encourage strong leaders at the regional level. But strong leaders are a threat to the coterie surrounding The Family, so they have to be cut down. A strong leader who has his own base will see no future for himself within the party. He cannot rise to the top. He will only get grief from rivals and from the high-command. The advantages of brand recognition and organizational support get less significant as his base strengthens. So he will break away.
The situation completely suits The Family. Instead of the bother of managing strong leaders inside the party, they are better off managing allies. They can be the junior or senior partner at the state level and their allies support them at the national level. Ultimately, The Family is concerned, not with the party, but with retaining power at the Centre. The Congress has some residual name recognition, residual organizational resources and certain amounts of inertia that currently ensures that the party will get 100+ seats at the Centre no matter what. In fact, its very weakness ensures that it will get allies, because the allies know that the Congress will not be a threat, while the BJP will be.
So, a weak Congress with allies will do quite well for some time. In a First Past the Post electoral system, the parties in the first and second place tend to look stronger than they are, because like Vali in the Ramayana, they will gain strength from their opponents. The Congress will win elections, giving everyone the impression of strength, till one day they receive some kind of shock and land up in the third place. After that it will be Shah Alam time for them.