Time Has Come for Gandhi Family to Prove That it is Still a Powerful Brand
The litmus test of a leader lies in his or her ability to pull to safety followers who are teetering on the precipice of defeat and despair. Both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul have been put to this test. It was under Sonia’s leadership that the Congress won the elections twice after Indira Gandhi. It was under her that Congress broke Rajiv Gandhi’s record of winning minimum number of 200 seats in 1989. And it was under Sonia’s leadership again that the 125-year-old party suffered its worst-ever electoral defeat this year. With just 44 seats in its kitty, this is the first time since Independence that the Congress can’t even claim the status of Leader of the Opposition (LoP). The deserted Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road and the unemployed status of former ministers and key functionaries reflect the impotent state of the party that ruled the nation for almost six decades.
And yet, the leaders are not making any effort to get back to the basics and connect with the common man who felt betrayed by their 10-year misrule and non-governance. Instead, they seem to think that acquiring the LoP label will help revive the party, and the perks and paraphernalia of office will suffuse them with an aura that will influence voters. If that was the case, over 70 per cent of the old ministers wouldn’t have lost the elections. But they don’t seem to realise that. Instead of learning from the ignominious rout, they are still seeking out comfort zones. For the past two weeks, top party leaders have been lobbying, begging and even prostrating themselves in front of the ruling party leaders for the LoP and deputy LoP post. Why? So that they can get a room, a flagged car and over a dozen officials as personal staff.
According to convention, a party needs a minimum of 55 members to support its claim for the LoP’s office. The Congress doesn’t have the numbers, but is demanding the position on the basis of it being the second-largest party in the House after the 282-member BJP. The party has collected endorsements for its demand from both current and former allies. But the Lok Sabha Speaker is not bound by such support coming through press statements. The Congress seems to be so disorganised that it didn’t even occur to them to call a joint meeting of UPA allies and elect one of them as leader. The combined strength of the UPA is about 60 MPs and they fought the election as one group; their leader could easily have got the post of the LoP. But effective communication isn’t the virtue of the Congress; indeed, all its leaders work and walk in different directions.
The Congress’s avaricious politics of grabbing office at any cost has left its local leaders and cadres confused and directionless. All of them look to the Gandhis as the saviours of the party. After the humiliating defeat, Rahul ducked out of view but Sonia started meeting leaders to get direct feedback from those who had lost the elections. So far, she has met over 4,000 people. But the outcome of the long confabulations has shocked many party leaders. Because Sonia has once again chosen the saintly and god-fearing A K Antony to review the causes for defeat and send her a report with his recommendations. Now, Antony has conducted similar assignments in the past as well, but his reports, if there are any, appear to be confined to inaccessible archives of the AICC headquarters. The reports are never read, and hence the question of axing the culprits doesn’t arise. And the liabilities continue lording over the party.
On the face of it, Sonia appears to be serious about taking harsh measures and replacing the dead wood in the party with younger and committed leaders from the states. For the past two decades, the Congress has been controlled by people who have failed in their own states and have limited mass appeal. But it’s Sonia’s own core team that impedes any major overhaul of the party. They are all experts at destabilising strong local leaders and protecting inefficient ones. For example, for over three weeks after the electoral debacle, three Chief Ministers—Bhupinder Singh Hooda of Haryana, Prithviraj Chavan of Maharashtra and Tarun Gogoi of Assam—were kept dangling and threatened with the possibility of losing their posts. Senior leaders were sent to Maharashtra and Assam to gauge the situation, but no action was taken on their reports. Hooda, who had done better in terms of votes polled than the other chief ministers, was destabilised because of factional fights.
Ironically, the Gandhis have been trapped in solving factional fights rather than chalking out any strategy to win elections in the six states of Delhi, Maharashtra, Assam, Jharkhand, Haryana and J&K. Barring some doling out of freebies and reservations on caste and religious grounds, the party hasn’t done anything to win in any of the states ruled by the Congress or its allies. The Gandhis have not even given any attention to the growing tension with its allies in Maharashtra, J&K and Jharkhand. Though the first of the elections is just four months away, party leaders are still fighting each other instead of alongside each other. Some loyalists have asked Sonia and Rahul to take full charge of the organisation. They’ve told them that the Congress without the Gandhis is like a jet without fuel.
If the truth be told, it’s not just the fate of the Congress that is at risk; the very survival of both Sonia and Rahul lies in their capability to put their party on the victory stand again. A party packed with pygmies and sycophants may pose no threat to the Gandhis, but it can’t propel them forward either. The time has come for the family to prove that it is still a powerful, marketable brand. For this, the leadership needs an effective and innovative marketing team, on the line of Narendra Modi’s, to repackage and sell their product. Unfortunately, their mood doesn’t reflect either the urgency or the inclination to recapture the lost market or glitter. They seem to be content dreaming about a scenario where the promise of ‘Achche Din’ has evaporated. But “a dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work”.
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