Political Delhi resembles a battle field as Parties trade charges and finger point on the ongoing farmers’ maelstrom. With the Government refusing to blink, the BJP daring, the Opposition is in a pickle, amidst this the crisis in the Congress is stark. How does one react to the continuing Grand Old Party’s Circus? As the ‘G 23 rebels’ audience with Ma-beta duo Sonia-Rahul Saturday has deepened the swirl within.
It is too early to say if the ‘thaw’ will lead to sweeping changes to get the Party out of its moribund morass and shed its inertia. From a “visible, effective and full time leader”, free, fair and democratic elections at all Party levels and establishing an institutional leadership to collectively guide the Party. Presently, by the looks of it, there is no comfort for the Congress in the short, medium and long terms
Specially against the backdrop of two subsequent general election washouts and a battering recently in Bihar, the Grand Dame has not learnt any lessons. It looks like a bunch of prisoners of war: defeated, demoralized and disarrayed mourning its golden years instead of a determined Opposition to hold the Government accountable. For all practical purposes, the Gandhi’s seem to have lost the plot. Consequentially, how does it stay relevant in a world where the political dice is stacked against it?
Slowly but surely it finds itself in an existential battle and faces multiple challenges: Crippled by rank desertions, indiscipline, perennial squabbling among senior leaders resulting in a virtual free-for-all with big, small and petty leaders all pulling in different directions who at best can come up with tokenism and “me-tooism”. The older entrenched leaders refuse to let go and the Rahul brigade waits anxiously for him to helm the Party as it stares at an abyss.
The problem is self created on multiple levels. One, it is to do with the Gandhis. With Sonia seen as an aging interim President, Rahul as a ‘reluctant leader’ who lacks the reliable and dependable quotient alongside his sister Priyanka who carries the albatross of her Vadra surname. In fact, Congressmen are quietly questioning Sonia’s intentions and policy of protecting-her-son-at-all-cost. Reiterated by the Party spokesperson that “99.9% leaders want Rahul”. Why not 100%? Who do the 1% think worthy?
Two, part of the problem is nobody realizes that charity has to begin at home. ‘Old guard’ leaders like Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Sibal, Moily et al refuse to let go and are blocking the way for younger elements, if any left, and for the Party itself. Said a new youth leader: “When will they allow us to lead so that the Party can grow? Given that most of them are “arm-chair” oldies, tired leaders or ‘youthful leaders’ who are ‘placed’ for personal loyalty having never won an election on their own steam, inspire cadres or voters?”
Resulting in a blame game between the veterans hitting back at Rahul’s “rudderless coterie with each blaming the other for inertia, ghooskhori and lack of grassroot desi connect to counter NaMo’s Hindutva symbolism and nationalistic zeal. Bringing things to such a pass that it has became increasingly difficult to decipher who are the heroes and who the villains.
Not a few senior leaders are worried that politics could spin out of control in the next three months. Privately they count how many more such acts may be in the pipeline at a time when the Party is caught in a whirlpool of political and electoral crises and is confronted with a firmly entrenched BJP. Said a disgusted neta, “The decision-making process is so slow. If Soniaji continues with her status quo policy then the Party will fall apart.”
On the obverse, Sonia loyalist asserts, “It takes two to tango. Till it suited the rebels they rooted for the Dynasty but now they paint the President as a villain. Besides, with only 52 MPs, three States things can only get better. So Congressmen can continue to be slaves of the dynasty.” QED.
Alas, the Party has shriveled beyond belief and is no longer the giant tent under which a surfeit of views coexist as grassroots and senior leaders are sidelined, replaced with a highly personalised, feudal functioning and outlook, chamchas who leech-like feed on the “undaata”, living off her goodwill. Only those who serve loyally flourish in the “nomination culture”. Both disagreements and debate are viewed as betrayal.
Ironically, even as Rahul Gandhi extolled his great grandfather Nehru on his birth anniversary last month by recalling “his values of brotherhood, egalitarianism and modern outlook” and suggested the Party must conserve these, he should start within by implementing Nehruvian ideals by embracing diversity of thought and being open to debate, discussion and a way forward.
The infamous letter bomb by G 23 “rebel” to Sonia a case in point. Warning against the drift in the Party, asking for full-time leadership and elections to the CWC and calling for sweeping reforms to salvage the Party, it was treated as betrayal and icy coldness by the Dynasts resulting in a jee huzoor packed CWC denouncing and negating the letter.
But the Bihar results have only underscored the rot leading to more voices of dissent. The Party which had won 27 seats in 2015 contested 70 but won just 20. Adding salt to wounds Rahul only campaigned for three days and addressed three meetings compared to Prime Minister Modi who addressed five meeting. Worse, he preferred to ‘picnic’ with sister Priyanka in Simla’s cool climes.
By the looks of it, the Congress cannot hope to return to power even in election 2024. What it can do is to use the interim to start from the bottom, shore up youth power, hold organisational elections, which are honest, and co-opt those elected to form teams of office-bearers at all levels, right up to the CWC.
To give Rahul the benefit of doubt perhaps he has the right ideas of the way forward by the need for primaries to select candidates and decentralisation of decision making. Yet, he either doesn’t want to, is disinterested or is unable to implement changes.
Now with the clamour for his return as President it is obvious the Party wants to cling to the Gandhi brand irrespective of them being passed their use-by date. And if Rahul decides to wear the crown of thorns again, he must clean out the Aegean stables with a firm broom. He needs to start from the bottom, hold organisational elections, which are honest, and co-opt those elected to form teams of office-bearers at all levels, right up to the CWC.
Alongside he needs to shore up youth power and ideas, infuse fresh blood—young people who are ambitious and hungry for a win and build the Party ground up and retire senior leaders ensuring they are not involved in decision-making. Towards that end he needs to amalgamate multiple viewpoints, accept and respect them else it can write of hope of making a decent bid for the 2024 elections. Clearly, the time is far gone for a cut-and-paste job of mending fences and building trust but nothing ventured is nothing gained. The Party should use the interim to, or whatever remains to stay relevant. It needs to look inward urgently and do some serious thinking to grapple with the internal contradictions and work towards intra-Party harmony. The Party needs to look beyond Sonia-Rahul and find answers. Remember, no leader howsoever mighty and powerful is indispensable.