An internal rebellion is what grand institutions sometimes need to break free of fatal stupor. In the wake of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results declared on 11 March, a former Congress MP from East Delhi, Sandeep Dikshit, signalled signs of dissent — albeit mild and without directly naming the top Congress leadership — that this party badly needs right now. Dikshit was pretty vocal about his concerns for the party when he reacted to the results of the Assembly elections on Saturday evening. The party experienced a washout in the state that was its cradle in its formative years; the Congress has been reduced to a single-digit status in the 403-seat Assembly as it has won only seven seats.
Analysing the factors that led to the Congress debacle in the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Assembly elections, Dikshit (52), a St Stephen's graduate and an MBA from Institute of Rural Management, Anand, spoke at length with Firstpost.
Edited excerpts follow:
There seem to be some serious problems within the Congress — as after its massive debacle in the 2014 General Election, it failed to revive and has been performing badly ever since. Now, in the latest Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Assembly elections, it has performed pathetically. Why so?
Since 2014, the Congress has been facing one defeat after another — whether it’s an Assembly election or a civic poll like in Odisha. There’s an erosion of its base from those states in which it used to be a strong force. After every defeat, in the name of introspection, the senior leaders are lying. Moving one person from one place to another or changing portfolios doesn’t make sense. There is no honest introspection within the party to find the reason. Capacity building of a strong cadre has been missing for a long time. Rather than capturing the imagination of people — as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has successfully done — the party leaders are capturing the Congress. They have failed to communicate the core ideology of the Congress and the issues to its voters.
Do you think there was some blunder in the poll strategy of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh? First, it announced former Delhi chief minister and senior leader Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial candidate; then went into an alliance with the Samajwadi Party. As a result, she withdrew and it seemed the Congress was thriving on chaos.
There was dissent within the party. Even senior leaders like Sheilaji (Sandeep’s mother), who was at the forefront initially to lead the party in Uttar Pradesh, was badly treated. Here, we don’t respect senior leaders. Moreover, the Congress has lost its connect with the masses in Uttar Pradesh — that once used to be a strong Congress bastion and has given the country so many prime ministers, including nation’s first — Jawaharlal Nehru.
Today, almost 90 percent in the Congress are patron managers, who are more involved in the distribution of tickets and getting favours. Capable leaders have been sidelined.
What Congress did in Uttar Pradesh was nothing but a stupid act. It didn’t act till five months before the polls. This 'Gathbandhan' (alliance) was a failure, because the other partner was Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who hasn’t done anything commendable. The construction of a super-highway or a flyover can’t be termed as development. I have travelled across the state and it has earned a bad name — "27 saal, UP behaal (UP is the worst for years)". Development adds to politics but it’s missing in the state. Modi highlighted these problems before the electorate and projected himself as the solution. The voters believed in him and voted BJP to power. Congress missed it and instead joined hands with Samajwadi Party. Highlighting the alliance as a union of two youth leaders (do yuva neta) didn’t help because the image of a true youth leader was missing.
It has been observed that Congress virtually gets wiped out in the state in which it loses. What is the reason?
It’s true and now this erosion has become unstoppable. There are several reasons — no new cadre-building; the party is bereft of ideas; good people with leadership qualities have been reduced to pygmies. No self-respecting leader will be popular within the party. Similarly, Captain Amarinder Singh, who earned the Congress a win in Punjab, is not popular. After all he’s a self-respecting man. But, we also saw his popularity among the masses that made him a winner.
Do you think the top Congress leadership should take the blame for these defeats that have come one after another?
Of course! Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi being the leader of the party, who represents the youth of this country, also has to share some responsibility. I am not saying that he should be blamed for the electoral debacle. As he has absolute power within the party, he can lead the change.
Unlike Modi, the Congress seems to have failed to connect with the youth of our country...
Because, several senior leaders in the party are not allowing fresh blood into the fold and aren't ready to get young, talented workers. We need to give space to those who can connect with the youth. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Congress built its cadre from among the youth who were part of the freedom movement or some other field of activity. At present, the need is to build a strong cadre. How many young Congress leaders are associated with any kind of movement? There are young leaders as well who function like some of those old senior leaders, who do nothing but occupy space within the party fold for personal benefits.
We don’t need professional politicians; instead we should have politicians (and leaders) who can function professionally and align with the masses. The Congress also needs to effectively communicate its message, like the BJP is doing. It’s talking about pro-poor measures taken by the government and thereby connecting with the common man.
Ultimately, what is the solution for the revival of Congress party?
First and foremost, the party ought to get rid of deadwood.
Second, build a strong young cadre base.
Third, the Congress needs to re-articulate its ideology and pluralist values.
Fourth, the thrust should be on socio-democratic India.
Fifth, we can’t go on promoting the economic policy, where unbridled flow of capital is made to corporates by keeping the interests of capitalists in mind, like what happened during the times of Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram. We have to keep the interests of farmers, workers and the common man in mind.
Sixth, the Congress has to focus on inclusive programmes related to education and healthcare to connect with the masses.
Published Date: Mar 12, 2017 10:43 am | Updated Date: Mar 12, 2017 12:07 pm