What plagues Congress: Analysing the party’s leadership dilemma through Ghalib's lens

“Umar bhar Ghalib yeh bhool karta raha;

 Dhool chehre pe thi aur aina saaf karta raha”.

This brilliant couplet by Mirza Ghalib was posted by political analyst Mohan Guruswami on his Facebook page to pinpoint the exact problem that plagues the Congress along with this short explanatory note:

“Today, the Congress party reaffirmed its faith in the leadership of Shrimati Sonia Gandhi and Shri Rahul Gandhi, and will now try to understand the reasons why the state units couldn’t deliver results. I think they would be better served if they made an assessment of the caliber of the duo and found a way out of their predicament”.

I agree with what Mohan Guruswamy is trying to convey to the best of his understanding of Indian politics in general and the Congress culture in particular. Can you digest what Ajay Maken, Congress boss of the Delhi state unit, said after winning 4 of the 13 municipal corporation seats in the recently concluded by-elections?

“I would like to thank Congress workers of Delhi and the biggest credit should go to our leader Rahul Gandhi as he contributed a lot to this victory.”

Sonia Gandhi (left) with Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. PTI

Sonia Gandhi (left) with Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. PTI

Compare this with what party spokesman, Randeep Surjewala, said after the Congress was mauled, if not massacred, in the Assembly elections in Assam and Kerala, “We will analyse the causes. We will discuss this in a cordial atmosphere.”

Responding to reporters’ probing queries on Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, the spokesman came up with a rather feeble reply, “Every election has different issues and they should not be linked to any individual.”

It was clear from Surjewala’s statement that the party had decided to firewall Rahul from the heat and dust generated by the election results.

No Congress leader, not even an otherwise outspoken Digvijay Singh or an erudite P Chidambaram, can dare to bare the truth. The precise, historical truth about the grand old party is that it can shine only when it is led by a towering, charismatic leader. The party loses both its glory and winnability the moment its leadership become lacklustre.

It’s not a cadre-based outfit like the RSS-backed BJP or the card-holding communists, that can stand firmly on the ground on the strength of their well-oiled organisational machinery. The Congress had almost always been blessed with a seemingly unending series of captivating leaders that kept the masses enchanted throughout its 130-year-old history.

In the pre-independence era, it was led by Mahatma Gandhi. And in post-independence years, it was steered forward by Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Little wonder then that in 15 General elections so far, it could win an outright majority on six occasions and lead coalition governments a further four times at the Centre.

But now, things have changed. The wind has evaporated out of their sails. The leadership looks faded, tired, especially in the face of a Narendra Modi who, whether you like him or not, looks dynamic, talks energetically and rides an organisation nurtured by an overtly nationalistic, propagandist RSS.

What remains of the Congress is only a glorious past. All its satraps in the states who enjoyed mass support have left the organisation wilfully or otherwise, one by one. Remember Mamata Banerjee is an ex-Congress leader of West Bengal. So is Himanta Biswa Sarma of Assam.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of affairs of the Congress that any provincial satrap with even a semblance of mass support is driven out of the party by its leadership. It has happened in the past innumerable times (Please recall these names to refresh your memory – Subhash Chandra Bose, K Kamraj, Atulya Ghosh, S Nijalingappa, SK Patil, Morarji Desai, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, D Devraj Urs, Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma, Tariq Anwar and Mamata Banerjee).

It is happening even now. A Jagan Mohan Reddy or a Himanta Biswa Sarma are considered too inconvenient to be retained in the party with the result being that the grand old party loses sheen in what happened to be its bastions.

What’s the way out of the current morass? There are only two options:  First, purge the leadership – not just the general secretaries – ridding the party of its dynastic stigma. But knowing the Congress culture as we do, this option looks improbable.

The majority of the Congress leaders and workers still feel that it is the Nehru-Gandhi family that is holding the party together like an adhesive. Without them at the helm, the party shall wither away.

Then comes the second, easier option: Bring in Priyanka Gandhi at the top without any further delay and, as a corollary, purge the deadwoods in the second and third line of leadership. Time is running out fast for them with the next round of Assembly elections less than a year away. Their fortunes would be made or marred in Uttar Pradesh.

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Updated Date: May 23, 2016 12:34:00 IST

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