Much as a large chunk of the country’s populace waits, a certain and a ‘matter of time’ demise of India’s grand old party, and hopes for its resurrection, fade, though gradually, not easily. Those who argue for a ‘healthy democracy’ underscore both rightly and sensibly that to be able to sustain a democratic character we have to have a ‘constructive opposition’. This ironic terminology of being ‘constructive’, though an underlined belief in India, is often given to the ‘obstructive’ ones, but at the same time is essential for the success of democracy. It is a tool to counterbalance a powerful government under Indian system of parliamentary democracy.
Indian polity has a very uncommon trait of belying practices theoretically prescribed and constitutionally laid, or justified. We are both murderers and saviours of democracy. For the time being, Lok Sabha has no leader of opposition. Many may argue that people voted for a Parliament to be opposition-less, although this ill-conceived disposition is directly antithetical to anything called democratic. People choose governments in a democracy, not oppositions. Parties, notwithstanding their canny ideologies, have indulged in this rather unfair tradition of divesting Parliament of an opposition leader time and again. That doesn’t, though, in electoral terms, seem off-key, since the electorate decidedly favoured the BJP in 2014 and discarded anything offered by Congress and by any other party for that matter.
Congress is at a historic low – a debacle in the general elections, followed by an unprecedented drubbing in the state assembly elections. As luck would have it for the Congress, it’s virtually on the verge of drowning. This flame of 130 odd years may soon extinguish if not taken care of. Once a ‘powerhouse’ of politics, it is now awaiting its political extinction. Those on board are jumping out of this drowning ship. And, surprisingly enough, the pilot seems clueless, as if he was never qualified enough to be one.
The Congress leadership is accused of writing the narrative of its own decimation. The Gandhis buried, for long, their head in the sand to overlook dissonance in state and central leadership. Well, they succeeded themselves and failed their workers and voters at large. Consequently, Andhra Pradesh, once amongst its strongest bases, has no Congress presence. Apparently, the choice is between Y.S.R. Congress and Telugu Desam Party. In fact, Kiran Kumar Reddy, Congress’ choice for chief minister, after the unfortunate demise of Y.S.R. Reddy left the party in the run-up to the general elections thereby closing all avenues of Congress’ political revival in the state. Congress has no MLA in the Andhra Assembly at present.
Tamil Nadu has not seen and shall not see a Congress government for long. Dravidian parties have been exchanging the seat of power among themselves. Despite being in the backseat, Congress has been squarely blamed for DMK’s defeat in the state. Much averse to an alliance, workers of both parties could not reconcile and put a unified front against AIDMK. Congress’ performance, particularly, is abysmally reflected in the results. Congress could, out of 41 seats, win eight seats only. In Maharashtra, the voter base is shared with the Nationalist Congress Party. Any hope of coming to power alone seems distant now. Sharad Pawar has made the Congress ‘handicapped’. It appears too weak to move alone in the state.
Haryana has chosen to vote Congress out. Conditions have worsened so much that speculations are rife about former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda leaving Congress and forming his own party. In an unprecedented yet expected political drama, Hooda has made Rajya Sabha elections look like a ‘fixed match’ and shown his might and acceptability among state leaders by getting 14 MLAs’ votes cancelled. But the Congress’ officially supported candidate obviously lost. The most recent and important was its loss in Assam. The old bastion is destroyed. These are a few instances of poor management by the Congress leadership. In most of the above-mentioned cases, Congress’ dwindling vote share can be imputed to either lack of faith or too much faith in the state leadership.
Few leaders drone about Rahul Gandhi fully taking over the reins of the party and raise the demand that the current president be discharged of her duties. But no political truth is more inevitable than this. It is bound to happen. However, its timing and relevance are better left to be decided by the Congress. An open secret and established fact is Rahul Gandhi being a liability. His political understanding is unworthy, to say the least, to be talked about. He is among the worst performing MPs with regard to attendance and participation in the house. His image of a petulant brat, as Assamese Congress rebel Himanta Biswa Sarma revealed recently, and his visceral style of politics are chronic concerns now. Rahul Gandhi’s persona has been that of a reluctant politician who doesn’t seem courageous enough to lead a party, yet not ready to see anyone else doing so.
People in India often get swayed by impassioned speeches and content-driven scripts. Narendra Modi has quite successfully proven it. Rahul Gandhi’s political management and experiments are full of failures so far. Former Congress leader and now BJP’s pointsman in the North East Himanta Biswa Sarma gave vent to his indignation at the treatment by Rahul Gandhi, despite his sincere attempts to apprise him of the chaos prevalent in state Congress. A ‘non-serious’, lackadaisical attitude is not a politician’s trait. Unfortunately for Congress, Rahul seems to have it aplenty. Hegemonic fiefdoms are not from the democratic world. They are altogether different.
A cadre based party can ill afford to be practically dictatorial. Quite evidently, Congress is one today. Congressmen at the helm appear to be working like a legion meant to protect the Gandhis. Congress stalwarts like Chaudhary Birender Singh, Rao Inderjeet Singh had to board the BJP’s bandwagon as much of their demands and complaints were never heeded. Aggrieved by his constant allegations against Bhupinder Singh Hooda being overlooked by central leadership Birender Singh, a prominent Jat leader, defected to the BJP; hence, writing the obituary of the Congress. The Gandhis are often inaccessible to state leaders and accused of patronising a ‘coterie’ of sycophants. More clarity on Congress’ leadership being politically headstrong emanates from trusting a few leaders too much and ignoring complaints of discontent against their favourites. Indeed a ‘cardiac surgery’ is required.
Congress must understand that acceptance of political identity based on ‘dynasty’ is being eroded and replaced with performance. Their biggest advantage, the Gandhis, are not venerated anymore as they used to be. Most of all Rahul Gandhi who appears to be lowering his standards with every defeat. Exasperated yet chilled out, he keeps calling the government “suit boot ki sarkar“, not realising that the people have rejected such repetitive tirades.
Rahul seems to be comfortable with the old, conventional and outdated way of politics ignoring the fact that neither the Gandhis nor the Congress are in the 1960s and 1970s. The current situation urgently demands freedom of opinion and transparency in decision making. An outdated excuse of clinging to vote share percentage, while turning a blind eye to election results, may not work any longer. The ‘Young Turks‘ of the Congress, who are result oriented and have a better track record, should be given a greater role in the organisation of the party. Young leaders of Congress party enjoy considerable popularity among different age groups. Their sound political acumen needs to be appreciated and therefore tapped. Needless ambiguity regarding Rahul Gandhi taking over must be settled once and for all.
Opportunities are rife and perhaps the last ones to revive the Congress party. Big states like Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will go for polls in the next two years. Punjab is the earliest possibility and, at least, the most likely among all, to register a win. The other four states have BJP’s regional satraps like Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje. Nevertheless, anti-incumbency could well prove beneficial for Congress.
Gujarat, particularly, is a low-hanging fruit, given its unrestful political environment thanks to the Patel quota agitation and its subsequent mishandling by incumbent CM Anandiben Patel. Madhya Pradesh may provide propulsion for a revival to Congress, provided young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia are given an opportunity and the house is put in order. Scindia’s unabated mass popularity and sequential wins in successive elections makes him the strongest and the most deserving choice for Congress. To take on Shivraj Singh Chauhan, a factionalism-ridden Congress in the state requires an energetic and bodacious leader. Rajasthan arguably has strongest state Congress unit under Sachin Pilot who has brought home the bacon by winning by-elections in the state. In Chhattisgarh also, Congress leadership is in troubled waters. However, constant rule of fifteen years by Raman Singh means that anti-incumbency could work in Congress’ favour.
Thus, the resurrection of Congress is a Herculean task which is highly attendant upon the overhauling of the party into a genuinely inclusive political force. The conventional ‘Chintan Shivir’ (introspection session) must be superseded with a ‘Prarivatan Shivir’ (overhaul session). ‘Non-performing’ assets and unpopular faces like Ajay Maken, Digvijaya Singh, Ahmed Patel should gently or forcibly be taken out of decision-making bodies and processes, and be assigned duties that suit them. The central leadership should particularly take stock of the popularity quotient of leaders.
Under Ajay Maken, Congress got reduced to nought in the assembly elections. Digvijay Singh is notorious for politically daft statements from respectfully calling a known terrorist as “Osamaji” to passing ‘sexist’ remarks against former Congress MP Meenakshi Natarajan. Propriety is a great virtue in politics and he seems to lack it. And Ahmed Patel has little popularity among the public. Party decisions must not be left to the discretion of a clique of not-so-popular leaders. The long constructed image of being the sole upholders of socialistic moorings may have to be shunned and the party must project itself as a champion of economic principles and policies that are desirable for a new India. Central leadership, especially Rahul Gandhi, needs to be more heedful of suggestions and demands of states’ leadership. Therefore, inclusiveness, not sycophancy, needs to be promoted.
Featured image credit: Ramesh Pathania/Mint via Getty Images.