Frustration is creeping up the top rungs of the Congress. And the signs are undeniable. Earlier, there were acerbic voices against the government and its leader Manmohan Singh, now senior leaders have started having serious doubts about the state of the party itself. In a way it means the absolute trust of the senior party members in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi has started waning.
This is the clear message coming out of Salman Khurshid’s interview to the Indian Express. It cannot be dismissed as idle banter of a politician before journalist since Khurshid raises genuine questions about the course and future of the party and its present sense of drift. If other seniors in the party have not thought about it already, they are either being blind to the realities or are too optimistic about the party’s prospects.
Let’s dissect his comments for the sake of clarity. The party lacks 'ideological direction', he says. "We need a new ideology to meet contemporary challenges. Reforms in the 1990s were the emergence of a new ideology. But today we need an ideology to be given by our next generation leader Rahul Gandhi to move forward. We have to be clear about what we want to go ahead with in the next elections."
That the party is in total chaos over an ideological direction needs no overstating. Ever since it was forced by circumstances to part ways with its socialistic moorings and embrace market-centric economic reforms, the Congress has remained divided in two schools of thinking, one pitching for retracing steps to the original ideological position and the other seeking more reforms since it is an irreversible process.
The BJP’s loss in 2004 and the UPA’s victory for the second time in 2009 drove home the message that economic reforms are not politically viable and good old populism pays. But the reforms had marked a break from the past and whetted the appetite for more among certain sections. After globalising and liberalising the economy there’s no way the party could put the genie back in the bottle.
The Congress has failed to formulate an ideological position that combines both views. The incoherence shows in the functioning of the government and the party’s views on economic matters. It will continue to cut a sorry figure until it works out a line of thinking that it can market well among the masses as well as the classes. Its only advantage is no other party has clarity on ideology either. But it should bring no relief to the Congress. It is certain Khurshid is not the only in the person in party thinking hard about the ideological mess.
The second takeaway from his comments is about Rahul Gandhi. “The fact is that he (Rahul) is undoubtedly and unquestionably the number two leader in the party. Yet he has not taken up the mantle or accepted a functional responsibility. He is so far not willing to accept the number two position. In such a situation, we have to wait. This is a waiting time,” Khurshid said.
Was he venting ire at Rahul for not taking party matters seriously? The 'cameo' bit is bang on. So far Rahul appears to be a reluctant politician, jumping into the poll fray aggressively and then doing the vanishing act for long periods. He does the hard yard during the elections alright but is conspicuous by his silence on matters of policy and governance. Nothing is known of his views on issues of importance to common people or the country. And he is the de facto number two in the party after Sonia Gandhi.
Is he indifferent or is he unwilling to handle responsibility? These are the questions that would be worrying Congressmen a lot. They have invested a lot of faith in him and if he falls short of expectations, they face political doom. It is possible Khurshid was expressing what has been going around the Congress circles for sometime now. Clearly, Rahul is making Congressmen feel insecure.
The third comment of import is the blurring of boundaries between the government and the party. During UPA I, he said there was a clear distinction between governance and politics which no longer exists in UPA II. "It’s a scattered situation," he said. Obviously, the party is interfering too much in the matters which should be handled by the government. The problem has fundamentally to with the ideological conflict in the party and the inclination of the leadership to tread the populist line.
Forget his retracting the comments, Khurshid brings out of the closet some serious problems confronting the Congress. The party has to face them it wants to survive.