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India’s Congress party slowly bouncing back after election humiliation

India's oldest political party Congress has slipped into a period of decline after May's general election, but is slowly bouncing back with wins in recent by-elections.

NEW DELHI: India's oldest political party Congress has slipped into a period of decline after May's general election. It not only failed to maintain its rule, but does not even have enough seats to be declared leader of the opposition. However, the party is slowly bouncing back, with wins in recent by-elections.

May's general election not only ushered in the reign of Narendra Modi, it also marked a period of humiliation for India's Congress Party. The party was reduced to the lowest ever tally in any election held in India in six decades, and was even denied the post of Leader of the Opposition as it did not have the required numbers in parliament.

But the 129-year-old party seems to have bounced back a bit. Just as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) readies to celebrate a 100 days in power, the Congress party has made a comeback of sorts in crucial by-elections in four provinces. Along with its allies, Congress won 10 out of the 18 seats contested, even in areas which were considered BJP strongholds.

Siddaramaiah, chief minister of Karnataka, said: “The results of the by-elections in Karnataka and elsewhere in the country clearly shows that the victory in the last parliamentary elections under the leadership of Mr Modi is only a temporary phenomenon, and people only voted for change."

But the the BJP is discounting the results as a sign that the party's influence is on the wane. Nalin Kohli, BJP spokesman, said: “Firstly, this was not a general election, secondly, these were local elections, and thirdly, in some states, a similar situation was seen five years ago where in a set up by polls, the BJP lost and then immediately a year later was swept into power. These are local elections; I don't think you can draw any conclusions of the national situation from them."

Still, Congress hopes to ride on the wave of its good showing in the recent by-elections to re-establish itself as a force to be reckoned with. It is seeking regional allies in another four provinces that are set to go to the polls later this year.

But some party members feel Congress needs a major overhaul if it wants to return to its heyday. The team commissioned to look into Congress' May electoral failure found that the defeat was largely due to a spate of corruption scandals involving party members, infighting within the party and poor leadership.

However, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has not made any major changes to the party organisation. Her son Rahul Gandhi is still calling the shots, despite a number of party members questioning his ability to lead. Many Congress members are now calling on the party to rebuild its base and build on the momentum of its recent by-election wins.