Assembly Election 2017: Not Congress-mukt India, but a Rahul-mukt Congress, could stop party from extinction

A Rahul-mukt Congress, or better still, a dynasty-mukt Congress, may be an excellent idea. But a Congress-mukt Bharat may not be.

A healthy democracy needs at least two major parties that play competitive politics for the good of the people. Criticism of the two-party system in western nations notwithstanding, Indians need at least one more party, other than the BJP, which voters can look to when necessary. This is not to suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has notched up a spectacular victory in the latest round of Assembly elections, isn't capable of running the country. The point is that a robust and constructive Opposition will do a lot of good not only to the country but the ruling party as well.

The Left, suffering from a moth-eaten ideology that has been junked even in countries where it originated, is incapable of being a possible substitute for the BJP in future. The Indian Left is behind times by at least a century and is on the verge of extinction. If it isn't, India must ensure that it is. As for Arvind Kejriwal, even a brief look at his rants on Twitter is enough to convince us that there is no way his Aam Admi Party can fill the alternative space.

The Congress could have been that alternative, but it isn’t, not the least because it’s a family enterprise which its vice-president Rahul Gandhi runs like an Event Management Company with a bunch of jeans-clad iPad-flaunting chums. And if the Congress is hell-bent on remaining on the suicidal path which it has trodden and is determined to decimate itself, it is most welcome to do so. It’s none of our business. But if the party wishes to revive itself and save itself from possible extinction, here are ten things it could do.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Introspection

The Congress must introspect on what has been going wrong with it. The party’s record in stock-taking conclaves has been dismal. One such was called “Chintan Sivir”, held in Jaipur in January 2013. It resembled a large classroom where Sonia Gandhi was a grim teacher, dishing out dos and don’ts to senior Congress leaders who sat like obedient students with mouths shut and arms crossed across chests. It was an exercise in sycophancy of the most abysmal kind that is a hallmark of the Congress.

After the disaster in the last year’s assembly polls, Sonia Gandhi called for introspection. Senior leader Digvijay Singh, on the other hand, recommended a “major surgery”.

But neither a sincere introspection, nor a surgery followed. Not even a band-aid was ripped.

After Saturday’s assembly results that pushed the Congress further back into oblivion, Singh once again harped on his theme. He said: "Time for introspection is over, it is time for action..." He even talked of a "new leadership".

Right now, the party suffers from nothing short of an "existential crisis", which means there are questions about the foundations of its very existence and doubts whether its existence has a purpose and meaning. If this sounds like serious business, it is. And if the party undertakes an honest introspection, it will find an awful lot of things that have gone awry.

To begin with, the leadership (that, of course, includes party President Sonia Gandhi) must decide quickly whether Rahul should continue to lead the party. By all accounts, he has been an unmitigated disaster. Each pearl of wisdom that he drops, by way of a tweet or a public speech, must have cost the party precious votes. If Rahul must continue to be in the driving seat, a grown-up leader must be allowed to have a foot on the brake.

Party must shed arrogance

Remember how, in 1982, Rajiv Gandhi called T Anjaiah, the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, a “buffoon” at the Hyderabad airport and how Indira Gandhi later sacked him. The Congress lost Andhra Pradesh to Telugu Desam Party the next year. And you can’t forget the way Rajiv, in 1990, unceremoniously sacked the then Karnataka Chief Minister Veerendra Patil. The party lost the state to Janata Dal in the next assembly election. In 2008, Rahul publicly snubbed Congress' Karnataka leader Mallikarjun Kharge. And just before the latest assembly elections, Rahul wanted to drop Captain Amarinder Singh as the party’s CM candidate in Punjab. If he did, the Congress would have probably lost Punjab as well.

Examples of the high command’s low behaviour are endless. The high command has a history of treating Chief Ministers, leave alone smaller fries, like submissive vassals who must genuflect at the sight or sound of a member of the dynasty. This must stop.

Decriminalise the party

Politics is said to be the last resort of scoundrels. In India, the Congress is the first resort of criminals.

All parties, including the BJP, are populated by thugs, rapists, murderers and tax-evaders. But the Congress has more than its share of them. It is packed with people who believe that the party is a vehicle to make quick and easy money and that using money and muscle power is the best way to win an election. The Congress must weed them out, to the extent possible, and prove that it’s different.

It must get its secularism right

The way Congress views secularism has left a large number of Indians in open-mouthed wonder and kept them away from the party. The party, in fact, made secularism a dirty word. The party must know that secularism does not begin and end with pampering minorities but equality of religions. Its leaders must ask themselves why even the BJP’s alleged anti-Muslim stance hasn’t stopped many Muslims from voting for that party in the just-concluded UP elections. As for caste, it will continue to play a significant role in Indian elections for a long time to come. Yet, the Congress must understand that getting the communal and caste arithmetic right alone doesn’t win elections, as Modi has just proved.

Don’t revel in Indira’s legacy

Indira Gandhi institutionalised corruption, divided society on religious and caste lines to retain power and imposed Emergency on India.

Revelling in the legacy of the late Queen Bee of the Congress may cost the party dear. If name-dropping is necessary, Jawaharlal Nehru is a better choice.

No good basking in past glory

It’s meaningless to refer to Congress as a “national party” that got India its Independence. After Independence, the party broke many times over. And it’s not national, please. Before Saturday’s election results, the party was ruling one big state (Karnataka) and six small ones. With Goa and Manipur hanging in balance now, the tally remains more or less the same.

Be wary of attacking Modi

The Congress can attack Modi—it must, when necessary—but must be wary of how it does it. Modi has earned the confidence of the people who believe in his personal integrity and commitment and ability to rule them. The party can attack Modi’s schemes, but questioning his motives is fraught with the risk of losing people’s support, at least for now.

Internal democracy

The party’s record in internal democracy is pathetic. It even recently got into a nasty tiff with the Election Commission about holding organisational elections. By holding honest, internal elections, Congress must prove that it isn’t a mouths-shut party controlled by the likes of Rahul and his elitist, snobbish and arrogant buddies who have little understanding of Indian politics.

Time-bound agenda

One of the chief reasons why the Congress has been on a losing track is that it has no talking points. In recent years, the only thing it has been talking about is Modi. The party must at last come out with a vision document containing political goals for itself and an economic agenda for the country without attacking Modi.

Twitter is a good thing, but not everything

If Rahul continues at the helm, will somebody please tell him that elections can’t be fought and won on Twitter? He should go to the people and talk things in a manner that doesn’t provoke bemused smirks from listeners.

Author tweets @sprasadindia


Published Date: Mar 13, 2017 01:40 pm | Updated Date: Mar 13, 2017 02:59 pm