By B Chandrashekar:
‘Congress Mukt Bharath’ — that’s the goal of the BJP – an India without Congress Party. Looking at the decimation of the Congress party in 2014 general elections and assembly elections, this doesn’t sound like an improbable goal. But, do we really need a Congress mukt India or a ‘Family’ mukt Congress?
Congress mukt India is not what we need for a simple reason that a strong opposition is a definite need for a vibrant democracy.
With the decimation of Congress, there is a larger threat of the rise of smaller regional parties that serve only some narrow cause based on caste, community, language or ethnicity. In a country without a two party system, a divided opposition only creates more chaos in the event of election. When Congress was the largest political party, we saw situations of political commotion after the elections of 1977, 1989, 1996 etc. at the centre. Now the trend has reversed where BJP is in Congress’ position but the situation in opposition camp remains the same. Instable governments have achieved only very little. To add to that, fragmented opposition can result in the victory of the party which has been rejected by the majority.
Congress’ stance of ‘left of the centre’ is an alternative to the BJP’s ‘right of the centre’ position. In a mature democracy, it is the presence an alternative point of view that brings essence to the entire democratic set up. It is a matter of debate on which stance is correct and India has a record of carefully treading the ‘middle’ way, it doesn’t hurt to have a different opinion and actually it is a necessity.
Congress is not a party that is devoid of any talent. Some of the smartest politicians in the country are from Congress. It has a mix of intellectuals as well as leaders ‘from the grass roots’; the former, which even the BJP lacks. (While selecting cabinet ministers, Congress always had a problem of plenty, but now, Arun Jaitley is both Finance and Defense Minister, holding two of the top four portfolios).
We need Congress party to serve as a principal opposition party to keep a check on the government’s actions. It is only the Gandhi/Nehru family that needs to be ousted, if at all it is possible. Every party makes mistakes, sometimes Himalayan ones, but it deserves a chance to stay in the race only when it learns from them.
Imagine, for instance, if BJP had lost badly in the 2014 general elections. That would have been the end of Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions; L K Advani would have said, “I already told you so”; other BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj would have gone all against the party president; Rajnath Singh’s head would have taken the toll. This is called inner party democracy, which the grand old party lacks.
The selection of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate by the BJP is the closest that any party came to something like primaries in the USA, where the party cadres select the candidates. Of course there were some counter views including that of Advani, but it was only a minority voice. BJP has a Parliamentary Board that takes all major decisions, but when it comes to Congress, it’s the family’s will all the way.
Congress not only defied necessary guts to project Rahul Gandhi against Narendra Modi (it is not mandatory to assign a PM candidate before election; however it’s a no brainer that if the party had won, it would have been Rahul Gandhi. The point here is that even though he was the de facto PM candidate, the party didn’t have the nerve to name him officially). After the party lost, it took ‘collective responsibility’ and cited ‘lack of communication in publicizing UPA’s achievements’ that led to the loss. They forgot that the first step in fixing a problem is accepting that there is one. After elections, Rahul Gandhi didn’t even want to be the leader of the Congress party in Parliament; it was subordinated to Mallikarjun Kharge.
When Congress lost badly in 2014 general elections, the party men did not turn to second rung leaders to take the mantle nor did they expect the family to take responsibility; they turned to Priyanka Gandhi to save them! After the assembly elections in October, this voice is growing louder. It is in their DNA to stay loyal to the family and even their choices are restricted there. There was not a single Congress leader who questioned Rahul Gandhi’s capability. That’s the way it has been since Indira Gandhi. An exception could be the period between Rajiv Gandhi’s death and Sonia Gandhi’s entry, but it did not last long; and more importantly, when the party lost in 1996, the inner party dissidence was louder than ever before and the entire scene was chaotic till Sonia Gandhi’s arrival.
It was the family that made a mockery out of one of the world’s renowned economists by making him a dummy prime minister and denying him his due power. If Manmohan Singh had retired from public life, say before 2004, he would have been revered as a hero and one of the chief architects of liberalisation. Thanks to the family’s dominance, the PMO’s supremacy was at its nadir.
If a Cabinet boasts IITians, Harvard MBAs, lawyers and a former United Nations diplomat among its members, an honest person as the PM, and still delivers the worst rule with corruption scandals and poor governance at a scale that was never seen before, it doesn’t take a seer to say that the problem is at the top.
Agreed, without the family, Congress would be a fissiparous institution. It is the family that serves as glue for the entire party. It would be an arduous task to ask the family to step down and elect a party president that is acceptable to majority of the second rung party leaders. But if they fail to act now, no one can save the party from its current shatters.
Pragmatically, Congress without the family is impossible. A strong and competent leader at the helm, with effervescent inner party democracy, is an ideal state which is a distant dream. However, if the dream of ‘Family mukt Congress’ remains only as a dream, then ‘Congress mukt India’ would become reality. It’s now up to the party men to decide.