It’s déjà vu time again.
One more disastrous electoral performance and talks are on about a leadership change in the Congress. For a change, no one is talking about Priyanka Gandhi replacing party president Sonia Gandhi. For Congressmen, it has to be Rahul Gandhi. Whatever his showing as the party’s de facto leader, they have to swim or sink with him. Whether the party bites the bullet is another matter though.
There’s a growing realisation that two power centres at the top, one revolving around Sonia and the other around Rahul, are proving disastrous for the party. The feeling in the party is that the old guard, which has been resisting the Congress vice president’s efforts to revamp the Congress by inducting new blood and ideas for some time now and has been making no contribution of its own to the party’s cause, has to vacate space now. Most of them are associated with the current party president. Sonia’s exit, if it happens, would automatically signal the end of the old guard.
The Congress already has a young guard ready to take over. There’s no dearth of talent in the ranks and it only needs to be promoted well. Like his father late Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul can afford to have an entirely new team to work with. Political parties need to re-invent themselves at regular intervals, as a matter of necessity, not of choice. The party could take cue from the BJP revival and growth under Narendra Modi. That almost the whole set of earlier leaders, including the likes of LK Advani, has been put in cold storage ever since Modi arrived on the scene and there has been no damage to the party should serve as eye-opener for the Congress.
The Assam results were a sharp reminder that the party needed to revive in the states. It cannot continue with leaders who are disconnected from the ground, lost the pulse of the people and are unamenable to change. With three more years to go for the general elections, if the party doesn’t change now, it would not be ever. Rahul has sufficient experience on the ground by now and despite electoral defeats at disturbing frequency he has not shown any tendency to run away from the next fight. He is more mature in his public conduct and no more comes across as a sheltered kid unwilling to move out of his mother’s shadows.
The party also needs to occupy the political space it has vacated over the years through continuous neglect of the organisation. While the BJP has expanded its footprint phenomenally to be in the polar position of national polity, the real threat for the Congress is from the newer entrants. In the states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha regional parties have already snatched its core support bases. In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party has eaten into its vote bases and threatens to do so in Punjab and Goa too.
Politics abhors a vacuum. If the party does not act fast then someone else would fill that. To reclaim its political relevance, the party requires strong, decisive leadership. Rahul for many Congress seniors may not be the best person to lead the party, but it’s a situation of no choice. The party won’t hold together without the Gandhi adhesive binding it and a clear command and control system.
The BJP, which has been dismissive of him so far, should be worried. In its two years in power, the Modi government has exposed several chinks. Despite the pro-poor noise it has been making, it’s still perceived to be a party serving the interest of the rich. It has not come good on its promise of providing jobs and the Hindutva groups have already opened up too many areas of conflict within the society. The Congress can make capital of the disruptive and divisive character of the BJP and its mother organisation RSS.