CWC's 'poll process' to elevate Rahul a sham, betrays Congress' desperation to justify feudal mindset

The rest of the country might have a different opinion, but the Congress party still takes itself very seriously. The Grand Old Party convened a meeting on Monday of the all-powerful Congress Working Committee (CWC) chaired by president Sonia Gandhi, and at the end of a serious brainstorming session, all serious-looking functionaries announced in all seriousness that Rahul Gandhi is a candidate to become the next party president.

Now, looking at Congress' "internal poll schedule", you or I might burst out in a bout of uncontrollable laughter — the sort poet Sukumar Ray had written about in his poem Ahladi in Abol Tabol — but that would be an impertinence.

The party would have us believe that Rahul's elevation is serious business. It is still not a foregone conclusion but apparently subject to a democratic process where he must beat a fellow contender to emerge as the president.

The problem is, this elaborate sham proves just the opposite. The pretentious timeline for the "internal polls" to announce Rahul's elevation, and Sonia's reported "insistence" on convening a CWC meeting to officially ratify and declare the schedule for "party election" (as if calling such a meeting was necessary) unintentionally points to the severe pressure Congress is under to justify its feudal structure of power and the way it has become vulnerable to charges of extending dynastic hegemony.

 CWCs poll process to elevate Rahul a sham, betrays Congress desperation to justify feudal mindset

At the heart of Congress' problems lies its inability to address an existential crisis which has been brought about in equal parts by BJP's ascendancy and Congress' failure to solve the Gandhi dilemma. The family has become a liability to the party, but it is a liability which the party can ill afford to shed without undergoing factionalism.

This inescapable trajectory came about because the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty never really allowed a second rung of leadership to prosper which could have taken up the leadership, not through entitlement but merit. The party did have a chance of letting merit rescue its mantle but with PV Narasimha Rao's death and the coup that was staged to oust Sitaram Kesri from party president's post in 1998, to install an inexperienced Sonia in his seat, that inflection point was lost.

Now that the Congress is facing the prospect of being led by another incompetent dynast who has presided over many a lost electoral battles, it would rather accept slow death than face the prospect of a massive churn where competent leaders factionalise and eventually take the legacy forward by divesting it of Gandhi heirlooms.

That may have ensured a leaner, better, bolder and healthier Congress but the present leaders within the party — even if they are more competent or command a higher mass base than the Gandhis — suffer from a fear of uncertainty. This fear has, in turn, squeezed Congress' options to the point that a family's future has become conflated with the party's in a gross perversion of its 130-year-old legacy.

While the Congress had been busy regressing into feudalism, the BJP saw one churn after another in its ranks that has led to the rise of a Narendra Modi and an Amit Shah — men who arrived from the fringes of the societal power structure to take firm control of the party. This ideological difference between a party where the meritorious takes control and a party where elite dynasts remain in power has been one of BJP's strongest USPs before an electorate that is demographically young, ambitious and aspirational.

The Congress realises this. Rahul's bumbling defence of the dynastic rule before an US audience and the current effort to give feudal power handover a veneer of democratic respectability exposes the inner contradictions of the Congress' position.

So, we have the prospect of the Gandhis calling for "an election" in which a Gandhi will "file nomination"; that Gandhi will be the candidate, Congress' workers will vote for the said Gandhi if a candidate emerges, the "results" will be counted, and finally "all suspense" will end on 19 December when the "winner" will be announced. At the end of this process, Rahul will become the Congress president.

Since nobody within even the Congress seriously believes that a "worthy challenger" will emerge from the ranks to give the vice-president a fight for the top post, a far simpler and more honest approach would have been to announce Rahul's name and get along with the battles ahead.

Instead, this stodgy and convoluted process points to the confusion that the party is still suffering from, torn between its existential dilemma and the imperatives of representing a young electorate.

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Updated Date: Nov 21, 2017 10:56:02 IST