Copyrights Do Expire. Gandhis Must Rediscover Congress to Stay Politically RelevantThere cannot be a more opportune time for both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to dust the shelves of history, and pull out the gilded volumes of The Discovery of India written by Jawaharlal Nehru. The book could help them rediscover not just themselves but also their party—the Indian National Congress. The time has come for the stakeholders of the jaded 128-year-old outfit to rediscover and reposition itself. Since the Gandhis are the only shareholders, they have to devise a perfect and effective marketing strategy to reclaim the territory lost to Narendra Modi. If they feel that they can achieve this by confining themselves to inaccessible, fortified homes and offices, they are likely to lose even more than what they can imagine. Congressmen want the Gandhis to lead from the front and not retreat into citadels. Their gestures and actions during the next months will not only decide the party’s future but also the political relevance of the Gandhi Parivar. Sonia acquired an iconic status after winning power for the Congress in 2004 and 2009. The Gandhis have always been recognised as national leaders. Now with the arrival of Modi on the national scene, Sonia has to score a dramatic comeback to retain her pan-Indian identity and exalted status.
The Congress has gone though many splits, climbed many hills and descended myriad valleys. But the party has never faced such a threat to its very existence. Even after 110 days of its worst defeat since Independence, the High Command is still prostrate with shock. The body language of the leadership and middle-level functionaries doesn’t reflect the resolve needed to stage a comeback. While the BJP has undergone a generational change and an ideological overhaul, the Congress is struggling to keep its flock together. Generally, the political war should be between the ruling party and the Opposition over issues and institutions. But the Congress appears to be at war with itself. The Gandhis are conspicuous by absence, yet the party keeps its faith in the Gandhis. A majority of workers feel that only a Gandhi can revive the party. But they are hugely demoralised by the internecine strife among senior leaders who are busy seeking various posts like the Leader of the Opposition and chairpersons of various parliamentary committees instead of agitating against the ruling party by finding fault with its governance. A former minister, known more for indiscretion than performance and was sacked for his objectionable conduct, lobbied so hard to grab the chairmanship of a panel by incessantly hounding the High Command that other more qualified young MPs were ignored. A large number of former ministers and senior functionaries cut sorry figures when they continue to behave as if they are still members of the ruling party, and fail to accept that they have lost not just power but credibility too. A bunch of defeated and defamed Congressmen pose a mammoth challenge to the party leadership by unashamedly seeking positions of power in the organisation. Perhaps this damaging environment has forced over a dozen young Congress officebearers to demand the purge of those who were responsible for the rout of 2014, but are unwilling to quit their lofty perches. A party general secretary demanded that anyone above 65 should retire from active politics. A month before, some state leaders had raised their voices against Rahul, holding him responsible for the collapse of the party structure.
Sporadic rebellion against the leadership is not unprecedented, especially after the party had lost a decisive election. The Congress genetically is an outfit of power-seekers. The party lost its independent character after Indira Gandhi faced down the powerful challenge from the party’s original freedom fighters. If they got India independence from the British, Indira Gandhi got liberation from them and created a portmanteau of loyalists who worshipped her like a deity. Since then, the inheritors of her political genealogy have been building and rebuilding a party of a quantity of followers, but few leaders of quality.
It is not surprising that despite the party’s humiliating defeat, no disgruntled Congress leader has demanded Sonia Gandhi’s resignation. They still feel that she is the only one who can revive the party’s sagging morale and nudge her son to be more politically proactive. For the past three months, they have been expecting a major organisational reshuffle—both at the Central and state levels. They were also expecting Sonia to tour the states extensively to address grassroots workers. In fact, she was working on a revival plan and had planned a Bharat Yatra accompanied by new set of officebearers. But she couldn’t take on the oldies. Even in the selection of various officebearers, she was advised against experimenting and just stick to the well-tested Congress principle of obliging every caste and region. For example, she was forced to appoint 72-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge as the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha only because he was a Dalit. Many effective senior leaders like Veerappa Moily and Kamal Nath were ignored. For the past 112 days, she has been meeting people from various parts of the country, but has refrained from calling a formal meeting of state leaders. Her supporters and admirers are equally baffled by her inaction in revamping the party machinery in the poll-bound states of Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and J&K. All of them have the sinking feeling that the High Command has accepted defeat in these states even before the elections have been formally announced. In addition, there are no serious talks about forging regional alliances to stop the Modi juggernaut from making a triumphant entry into these states. All of them are currently ruled by the Congress or in alliance with a local party. The party has formulated no strategy to fight the by-elections in various states like Uttar Pradesh. It has decided not to seriously participate in any of the 12 by-polls. The reason is quite a revelation. The party, which still rules around half the number of the country’s states and has held sway over India for over five decades, is short of funds. If this is indeed true, then it reveals yet another equation changing within the party. Those who are capable of funding the party and collecting huge amounts are not passing the dosh on to headquarters, but are keeping it with themselves to finance the elections of their supplicants. It is a clear signal to the Gandhis to undertake the long political journey to rediscover the Congress, which still swears by them, stands beside them and sacrifices for them. After all, copyrights do expire and royalty also ends.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla