Congress as a credible Opposition is critical for democracy and India: For that, Rahul Gandhi must go

Political analyst Yogendra Yadav recently created a flutter by saying that Congress must die. The founder of the Swaraj India party, during a TV channel debate, accused the Congress of failing to perform its role as a challenger to the BJP and said that it lacked the stomach for a fight. Yadav also blamed the Grand Old Party for being an "obstacle" in the path of creation of an alternative that may contest the BJP's hegemony.

Yadav's rhetorical flourish aside, it is time to confront the question anew. The Congress won 44 seats in 2014, its lowest-ever tally and five years later, it seems to have improved its fortunes by five seats if current trends hold till the end. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president, decided to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Wayanad in Kerala in addition to his pocket borough — Amethi. Just as well. Once again, if trends hold true, then Smriti Irani is all set to hand Rahul an Amethi humiliation. That will be a symbolic and telling blow to dynastic politics, whose time is up.

 Congress as a credible Opposition is critical for democracy and India: For that, Rahul Gandhi must go

File image of Rahul Gandhi. Reuters

And that's the biggest takeaway from these Lok Sabha elections. There will understandably be a lot of focus on Narendra Modi who has just secured the biggest mandate for a non-Congress party in the history of India. It will be helpful to remember though that a large part of Modi's success is owed to his political acumen that helped him correctly identify the tectonic shift in ground realities. Modi has won the way he did because he is perceptive and understood before any of his peers that demographically young India is getting more and more averse to feudalism, and therefore he fought the 2014 elections as a chaiwallah challenging the might of a dynasty.

That story, of an ordinary man reaching the pinnacle of political power through merit and hard work, appealed to a large section of the populace in this demographically young nation because it sent a message of hope and told them that reward awaits if one is willing to take the risk.

Modi won in 2014 because he tapped into the ambition of a young nation out to prove itself, and returned with an even bigger mandate in 2019 because he gave shape to that ambition. The point being made is, Modi understood the idea whose time has come, acted as the change agent and a force multiplier for that idea. And while he deserves credit for that, we must also recognise the churn underway in India from which Modi benefited.

The Congress lost badly in 2014 and failed to improve its tally five years later because it failed to understand this churn — a young nation's clamour for recognition — and remained stuck in the 1970s rhetoric of doles and entitlements. So what now for the Congress? Should it must die, as Yadav says and let a new formulation take over and serve as the Opposition? After all, democracy only functions when there is a strong Opposition to counterbalance the ruling party and this condition is even more of a necessity when the party in power has won such a massive mandate.

This is where India needs the Congress more than ever because despite its losses and the erosion of its footprint, it remains the only political force that serves as a counterbalance to the BJP's hegemony. However, the Congress has miserably failed in this role in the past, and will keep on failing if it doesn't reinvent itself.

It doesn't need to necessarily die, but it must not allow itself to be led by a fifth generation dynast who clearly lacks leadership acumen and necessary skill-set. As long as the Congress remains a Gandhi Family Enterprise that drove out talented and ambitious leaders such as Sharad Pawar or Mamata Banerjee to clear the path for a Gandhi to lead the party, it shall see its footprint reduced further and may end up becoming a regional outfit. It surely looks like a regional party now with only Kerala as the lone bright spot on a dismal day.

For democracy to flourish in India, tension between the Opposition and ruling party is a prerequisite. Congress is still suited for that role but only if it dumps the dynasty and reposes faith in a new leader elected through a truly democratic internal process. Not a sham as we have come to expect from Congress. So for India's and the Congress' own sake, Rahul must go.

Click here to read an opposing argument about Rahul Gandhi's future in the Congress

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Updated Date: May 24, 2019 10:50:56 IST