Two momentous dates—9 August and 15 August, which are etched in the public consciousness of Indian citizens—are fast approaching, but the party that played the most significant role in the country’s freedom struggle is caught in its own existential crisis. Ten weeks after Rahul Gandhi tendered his resignation, the Congress is yet to commence the process of choosing his successor, though several prominent names have been doing the rounds.
It was on 9 August 1942, when top functionaries of the Congress had been arrested by the British government that second ranking party leaders such as Aruna Asaf Ali, Biju Patnaik and Kalpana Dutt, amongst hundreds of others, stepped in, thus ensuring the Quit India movement continued to gather momentum. In at least three places in the country, including Satara in Maharashtra and Ballia in Uttar Pradesh, the Patri Sarkar was established, and in these regions the writ of the then government did not run for a considerable time. Leaders such as Nana Patil, were at the forefront of the movement, which culminated with the decision of the British to grant India independence. The country attained Independence in 1947, with the first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, addressing the nation with his historic speech, “A Tryst with Destiny”.
The Quit India movement is proof of the fact that if there was sufficient depth in the organisational structure of a political party, the goal could always be accomplished—with or without front ranking leaders. During that period, those who kept the Congress flag flying did so selflessly, and definitely were not seeking any rewards for their incredible effort. Today this zeal is non-existent in the Congress, which at every stage is faltering, with no road map to resuscitate it. Band-aid solutions or recommendations by family loyalists are not going to help a lending hand unless the party is revived under a fresh leadership, which has its own vision.
Sam Pitroda, the Chicago-based family friend of the Gandhis, has submitted a report, which provides a corporate style blueprint that could transgress the existing party Constitution, as well as alter the established norms that have till now, been observed. Pitroda has been an exceptional technocrat, but his domain knowledge regarding both politics and the Congress is questionable. Political solutions need to be implemented by political entities and strait-jacketed formulas aimed at ensuring the control buttons remain in the hands of the Gandhis, are probably not going to work.
When parties requisition the assistance of technocrats or tech savvy individuals instead of their own trusted cadre, they expose their own paucity of depth. Is it not outlandish that a 135-year-old party being unable to find even a single person from its own ranks to render appropriate advice to the leadership? Pitroda is a well-intentioned person, but his prescription of having general secretaries and office bearers based on themes, rather than regions, may not find too many buyers.
The Congress, without any further delay, has to put into action the process of electing a new president. If senior leaders have been suggesting Priyanka’s name, it is solely because they are testing the waters, and do not wish to offend the Gandhis by proposing names that may not go down well with them. In fact, they are waiting for the Gandhis, through their proxies, to submit a name, which, to begin with, could be ratified.
Former Union Minister Shashi Tharoor is not hesitating to speak about the issue and it is evident that he has been prodded to put certain matters in the public domain by more experienced partymen, who do not, at this stage, wish to come out with suggestions. However, Tharoor is correct; it is no longer the individual who matters and so the process has to be streamlined. The new president should have the endorsement from the extended AICC plenary in order to be effective. Similarly, the Congress Working Committee should be duly elected and not comprise only those who would concur with suggestions coming in from 10, Janpath. Though Tharoor did not make mention of it, the Congress Parliamentary Board must be revived so as to help the party to take well considered decisions.
The former minister was absolutely on mark when he stated that had there been a leader at the top to take responsibility following Rahul’s resignation, the handling of Karnataka and Goa would perhaps have been far better and productive. As of today, the party workers are at sea regarding the chain of command, and it is essentially Sonia Gandhi who is attempting to keep the flock together though she is yet to make up her mind on the next move. It is imperative for her to understand that the party’s future would be better served with more young people in key positions rather than those who have outlived their utility.
In four states, there are elections round the corner and little has been done to put together teams to face the challenge from a formidable BJP. The BJP continues with vengeance to poach on Congress leaders. If Punjab appears fine, it is due to the stature of Captain Amarinder Singh. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress is not giving in because of Kamal Nath’s resilience. Rajasthan is on the brink of collapsing, with Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot engaged in a full-scale war.
Sanjay Singh, the erstwhile Maharaja of Amethi, has quit. The party’s unending troubles continue to haunt the leadership. Between us.