With columns and columns dedicated to signing the death warrant for the Congress, one cannot help but wonder what is wrong with the “grand old party”. But this is not difficult to fathom when one looks at the party’s leadership and style of functioning, and not just at Rahul Gandhi. In fact, to put the onus of the party’s humiliating losses in the 2014 general elections and in the 2016 state elections on Rahul Gandhi is doing exactly what Congressmen and the media have been doing all along—giving him too much importance. It is because of their rant that the Congress has come to be identified as, and has been reduced to, a one-man show. This also explains the desperate attempts by Congressmen to cling to Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv and now her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi.
It is time the Congress realised that it has lost its traditional vote-bank, especially the winning combination of Brahmins, lower castes and Muslims. This is the prime reason for its losses, apart from its failure to cultivate another constituency that identifies with it, no matter what.
Coming to the boring question of dynastic politics, it was Indira and Rajiv who started the tradition of “yes men” in the party. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul are just carrying forward that tradition, or legacy, whatever one may call it. It was Indira Gandhi who surrounded herself with like-minded people, who furthered their careers even as the party continued to lose touch with the electorate. It was at the time that the downward spiral began; 2016 is a culmination of that process. Her intolerance towards dissent and Rajiv Gandhi’s affection for those who he was comfortable with, allowed the party to develop its high command culture. The result is that in 2016 Congress has many of the high command variety—unbearably arrogant despite the way their party fares, with no one left to carry the party’s messages to the villages and enthuse the grassroots.
The problem is that both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi realise this—unless they are ignorant, which they are not—but refuse to do anything about it, because they are themselves the products of that system. What is the point of utilising the services of the well-meaning Prashant Kishor if he is not allowed to formulate his strategy by the so-called yes men? All that the “yes-men” can do in Parliament is to give eloquent speeches in high flown English, which 99% of the electorate cannot understand. If only elections could be won with such speeches. It’s not the British Parliament after all. It is our very own Lok Sabha voted by the people of this country who have to worry about roti, kapda (cloth), bijli (electricity) and pani (water). If Rahul Gandhi is the USP of Narendra Modi, according to Mamata Banerjee, so are Mani Shankar Aiyar, Digvijaya Singh, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Renuka Chowdary and Anand Sharma, to name a few. They owe their positions to their unquestioned loyalty and not to them being star campaigners. They are neither strategists nor vote catchers. What exactly they are doing occupying prime positions in the party, is a question Rahul Gandhi should answer. What kind of introspection is he doing?
The recent press conference by Abhishek Manu Singhvi on the Assembly elections should be viewed as an embarrassment since it shows that the Congress is still recovering from its debacle. Nobody, including Congress sycophants understood the purpose of it or why the Congress would want to turn itself into a laughing stock by putting out election data like that. Neither have the so-called “young Turks” shown any promise so far. They are themselves the product of the prevalent system and are itching to throw away the old guard—as if replacing the old with the young will revive the party suddenly. The majority of them are too arrogant to mingle with the local workers who form the party’s army.
What ails the party is also the fact that it has failed to recover from the grandiose vision it has of itself. In the election bound Uttar Pradesh, the party can achieve a great deal and stall the forward march of the BJP led NDA if it is ready to back a regional satrap, Mayawati, and not hope to capture power on its own. In Uttar Pradesh, Muslims who remain the key to many poll battles in several constituencies will not vote for the party. The Congress lost them in the 1960s and 1970s, after which the Muslims never voted for them. Failed promises, the fate of Urdu, confusion over Uniform Civil Code vs Muslim Personal Law and riots made Muslims see the Congress as an active participant which inflicted wounds upon them. Also, Congress has a tradition of treating its own people badly, as it did in the case of Muslims. It has always treated Muslims and Dalits as mere “vote banks”, without realising that the franchise has empowered them in many ways.
In many states, the Congress has put the party leadership in the hands of those who have loyalty, but not necessarily mass appeal.
The party also needs to stop treating secularism as its “gift” to the people; the Congress is by no means secular. The party is known for backing “Congress Muslims”, some of whom have never been recognised as leaders by Muslims themselves. Those who are effective Muslims have not been adequately utilised. It has introduced Muslims to secularism but never practised it.
With respect to Dalits, the Congress gave them everything, but power. Backing Mayawati is the only means to show that Congress means business. Dalits today are no longer interested in free meals or populism; they want power for themselves. Not that Mayawati does not have her share of letdowns, but she still commands a constituency among a section of Dalits. The Congress needs to realise that it has a better chance at revival if it backs a winning horse than finishing last in the elections to come. As else, they are staring at total annihilation.
The Brahmins too deserted the Congress long ago. A Priyanka Gandhi is not the answer to Congress’ woes and neither can she revive them. Those who press for her active role are also responsible for the sycophancy towards the party’s “first family”. This is primarily because they believe this will ensure their dominance as well. In many states, the Congress has put the party leadership in the hands of those who have loyalty, but not necessarily mass appeal. Almost all party units are plagued by factional fights, primarily due to the backing of the so-called high command leaders who themselves are divided into factions. The divisions are deep and surgery will not be enough. The party should accept that it has made mistakes; acceptance can heal the voters. Indira Gandhi accepted. The current crop is not ready to do so. Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s press conference of 23 May 2016 is a case in point.
They need to do a complete overhaul, not to revive the party, but to win back the confidence of the electorate who are disgusted with such sycophancy. For those who cannot imagine the party without the Gandhis, they need to know that the Gandhis will be relevant only if the party is. Right now, it needs to fight not only for itself, but for democracy.