By Poonam I Kaushish
How does one react to the on-going Grand Old Party’s Circus? Dismiss it as a storm in a tea cup, the first challenge to Sonia’s authority since 1999 when Sharad Pawar raised the banner of revolt or should one say a Rahul-style synchronized purge?
Predictably, the “letter bomb” by G 23 including senior leaders Rajya Sabha Opposition and Dy leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma ex Ministers Sibal, Tiwari and Prasad to Sonia sent shockwaves. Despite it merely calling for 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.
After a marathon Working Committee meeting where Sonia repeated her resignation drama which was in coordinated orchestra rejected, three things clearly stood out: The Party which has been in the iron-grip of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has no chairs left. The numero uno position is non-negotiable and can only be occupied by a Gandhi and the Dynasty is the Congress DNA. And Sonia is continuing to keep the seat warm for ‘ladla’ Rahul as President is a no brainer. Big deal if this has exacerbated the sense of desolation within.
Five days later the knives were out signaling vendetta. Sonia’s mantra of being a 24×7 Chief was by replacing the ‘G 23’ heavy weights with a committee of light weights and “Rahul’s boys” who neither have a mass base nor public connect. There are demands for expulsion of ‘traitors’ while others are threatened. Notwithstanding, her ‘we are one family and believe in forgive and forget’.
More, as if on cue Rahul’s brood first crushed the call for change and then accused the G 23 of “failing the Party. In 2009 we were 200 plus in 2014 we were down to 44. You were all Ministers then. We should look into where you failed. Only Sonia-Rahul duo single handedly are taking the BJP Government to task for its misdeeds.
Either way, the letter is the first censure of the ‘Ma-beta’. True, since 2014 tension has been simmering, murmurs against absentee Jack in the Box Rahul, his disconnect with senior leaders, taking a contrary view to the Party stand, his minions passing orders topped by his calling the shots with no accountability etc.
Underscoring that even after 14 months of the Party’s defeat Sonia and Rahul are filled with a sense of entitlement, even a strange self-belief that all they have to do is show their faces and the voters will vote them to power. Whereby, introspection and analysis for the Party’s decline is anathema. Akin to Aseop’s famous tale of the Chinese Emperor with no Clothes.
Oblivious of the rapid erosion of the Party’s base, loss of confidence and ideological confusion in its ranks over crucial issues like resurgence of Hindutva politics, debate on nationalism and the political narrative being spun by Modi-Shah which is weighing the Party down and further weakening its position. Another defeat in the upcoming Bihar poll would further test the Party as a viable alternative to BJP’s hegemony.
Further, it has no clear vision or rather a vision which seems to be disconnected from the twin objectives of fighting the BJP and reorganising the Party in a manner that can make it a fighting unit against an unstoppable opponent. Specially against the backdrop of the Congress’s shrinking vote nation-wide and the need to expand its organization and social base in States ruled by Opposition Parties.
Alas, today the Party directionless is in death throes facing an existential deep crisis, dependant on its undaata and staring at a lifeless and deathless life even as Sonia along-with her trusted lieutenants tries to keep the sinking ship afloat. Factional feuds has split the Party down the middle with leaders pulling in different directions in various States and reared its ugly head in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Jharkhand. Worse, it seems to have lost both its identity and function.
True, the Party is not new to turmoil, dissent and splits having weathered many a storm and come out trumps. But the difference this time is that it has been out of power for more than six years which is compounded by Modi’s BJP becoming the central pole of politics whereby the Congress holds out no hope as an alternative, instead it continues its fixation for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty by virtually pleading with Sonia to continue as interim President, since October last, nearly 22 months after she handed over the baton to son Rahul in December 2017.
Asserted Azad, “We want to fight the BJP but the Party has ensured we only fight for the ‘Family’ we have lost credibility by being satellites of the Gandhi’s.” Quipped another, the time is far gone when Barooha extolled ‘Indira is India and India is Indira.’ Sonia is no Indira and today the Gandhis’ are not the Congress.
“Undoubtedly, this is a difficult period for the Party and not the time for adventure as it is close to extinction and could probably die given its recent record. But it has nurtured elements of plural democracy which could outlive it,” asserted a senior leader. Adding, “There is a leadership vacuum of people who can make decisive, correct and timely decisions and execute them over a long period.
“Yet, it is hampered by the absence of strong ideology and solely reliant on the Family which binds it together. The most unpleasant aspect is the withering of internal democracy dogged by paralysis over the last few years. Being political parasites, they cannot survive on their own and are as loyal as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Today, it is in difficult unchartered terrain, out of power with an unbeatable BJP yapping at its heels.”
Its leaders, young and old, seem content with passing the blame to each other rather than honestly reckoning with their own failings. This periodic chest-beating almost never demands accountability from the Gandhi family who led the Party to multiple poll debacles. This obsession for the Gandhis is possibly the root of the Congress’s woes: A leadership and cadre that sees office as privilege and inheritance, instead of a prize for hard work and perseverance.
Can the Congress be saved at this late stage given it is engulfed in a dust cloud of falling structural debris? Is revival possible? And does it even matter?
Surely, an “ill” Sonia realizes it’s an emergency as the Party is in Secular decline with a protracted inertia post its consecutive Lok Sabha defeats topped by a leadership crisis. Time for her to democratically overhaul the Party, spell out its ideological position on crucial issues instead of beating about the bush and go back to real bread-and-butter issues to connect with the masses.
Her choices are limited as there is little space for maneuverability. Either the Party could “trudge along buying peace with the BJP” or elect a strong leader who would lead it out of the morass. But in the absence of a political plan and opting for cosmetic changes, this last road too seems to be one leading to a kind of deathless death for the Party. It needs to quickly get its act together or else will become as relevant as the Left is today. Sonia realizes only too well that politics is a game of perception whereby she has to use all her experience, sagacity and political connections to pull the Congress out of the quicksand it finds itself in. It remains to be seen how much she will be able to deliver. The earlier she starts the better as the Congress should not lead a lifeless life! Remember, politics is a heartless and unforgiving mistress.