Resignation of young leaders indicates Congress in process of reverting to archaic, self-defeating ways

All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of western Uttar Pradesh Jyotiraditya Scindia and Mumbai Congress chief Milind Deora head a long-ish list of party functionaries who have resigned from the positions they had held, ostensibly to share the burden of 'responsibility' for the crushing defeat in the recent Lok Sabha election, with the now erstwhile party president Rahul Gandhi. Scindia and Deora's resignation became public on Sunday.

The problem is not just these resignations, but the fact that the state of drift in party affairs that the leadership is unconscionably prolonging is having knock-on effects elsewhere. As of now, for instance, in Karnataka, where the resignation from the Assembly of a number of MLAs and their stated intention of joining the Bharatiya Janata Party has endangered the coalition government in the state. But more of that in a bit.

The list of party office-bearers who have quit also includes a number of others holding less important positions and possessing lower political profiles, including Indian Youth Congress chief Keshav Chand Yadav. What leaps to the eye is the fact that almost all the people who have quit office are people elevated by Rahul — leaders belonging to the 'younger generation'. No leader belonging to the 'old guard' has yet resigned owning moral responsibility for the party's contretemps.

In purely logical terms, this betokens the re-establishment of the 'Congress culture' over the party organisation. It is well-known by now that a number of leaders constituting the old guard were not happy with Rahul's limited attempts to reform the party and redress the balance of power between the oligarchs and the younger generations.

 Resignation of young leaders indicates Congress in process of reverting to archaic, self-defeating ways

Representational image. AFP

It is entirely possible that others brought into the party 'hierarchy' by the former Congress president will follow suit. It is being said that shorn of Rahul's patronage, these younger leaders are unsure of their future. All of this seems to signify that with Rahul out of the way in every possible sense, the old guard will now re-assert its control over the party again.

This is evident from the modus operandi of the party leadership at this very point in time. Instead of convening a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to nominate an interim president, prior to setting in motion the process for the election of a new leader by the AICC, the leadership is dragging its feet and allowing the crisis to condense further. Reports suggest that the people who are now in de facto control of the party feel that a CWC meeting should be convened only after a consensus candidate has been picked by an inner council of oligarchs. A debate within the CWC, it is felt say reports, could be unending and corrosive.

This is classic Congress. This kind of thinking became the norm especially after the Syndicate took over in the early 1960s. Elections to crucial posts — AICC president, Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party, in effect, the prime minister, and their counterparts in the states — were held. But before these elections at the central level, the oligarchs comprising the Congress 'high command' will meet to pick by 'consensus' someone who will be the 'official' candidate and who will almost invariably win (recall the Morarji Desai-Indira Gandhi contest for the leadership of the CPP, ie, the prime ministerial post, in 1966). The process will be replicated in the states.

The propensity to operate sub rosa, through intrigue and keep operations confined to cliques and cabals, seems to have typed itself into the genes of the Congress. The catastrophic humbling in the Lok Sabha election and the resignation of Rahul was an opportunity to pledge the Congress to a new way of functioning. After all, the party has nothing to lose; it's been all but wiped out. But what we are about to witness is another round of behind-the-curtains negotiations leading to the nomination of another discredited, apathetic leader to take over the party and run it in consultation with the same oligarchs who have nominated her or him in the first place. Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh's considered opinion, aired on Saturday, that one of the younger leaders should take over the party is obviously not widely shared at Akbar Road.

The big problem is that the longer this situation of drift is allowed to continue, the more fragile and vulnerable the party becomes. This is evident from the resignation preliminary to defection of 10 (eight in some reports) of Congress MLAs in Karnataka. These MLAs have resigned their membership of the Legislative Assembly and stated that they intend to join the BJP. The coalition government in the state is hanging by a thread. With no leadership, no one at the helm, it has become difficult for the Congress to fight this fire.

Some reports suggest that the resignations have been triggered by unfulfilled ambitions and promises to the would-be defectors of ministries and other positions could stem the rot. Other reports suggest that the rebels are holding firm. Whatever be the case, the situation highlights the perils of hanging around and doing precious little to get party affairs in order, thus reassuring party members down the hierarchy that a turnaround is possible.

It is possible that some of the rebels can be turned around and the ministry saved. But the basic problem will remain — that of a rudderless party. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Congress has wafer-thin margins anyway. In the former state, it runs the government with outside support. Resignations and defections of a much smaller number of MLAs can pull down these governments swiftly.

That matters have come to such a pass is largely the responsibility of the now-resigned Congress president. To own moral responsibility is one thing. To cut and run when the party is in the throes of a practically unprecedented crisis is another altogether.

In his resignation letter, Rahul expressed his gratitude and love for the party and went on to make a number of points: Rebuilding the party requires accountability and hard decisions have to be taken; his fight has never been for power but is powered by his instinctive reaction against the BJP's idea of India; he is a devoted son of India and a loyal party worker and will continue to serve both till his last breath; at times, during the election campaign, he stood totally alone; the Congress must radically transform itself to fight the BJP and its undermining of constitutional democracy; he will continue to fight for the ideals of the Congress, be available whenever the party needs his services; and, finally, the Congress cannot defeat its opponents without sacrificing the desire for power and fighting a deeper ideological battle.

The problem with this letter is that it completely lacks perspective. There is no hint of introspection: Although Rahul owns responsibility nowhere does he address the critical question about where he and his party went wrong. There is no hint of a prospectus for the future of either: Whatever vision Rahul may have is cloaked in verbiage and hollow, emotional rhetoric. There is no sign of the kind of hard-headed coming-to-terms with the situation that is a prerequisite in political life. Moreover, by practically jumping ship, Rahul has abandoned his 'vision' for a new Congress and those through whom he wanted, one presumes, to bring about change, leaving the field vacant for the no-changer veterans.

What are we to believe Rahul will do now? Ride away on a steed tilting quixotically at windmills? And what will the new generation do? Submit to the old guard and bide its time? With Rahul abdicating responsibility and forcing his chosen instruments to follow suit, any hope for some kind of rebuilding — bottom up — has been safely consigned to oblivion. To end with a cliché, the more it changes, the more it remains the same.​

Updated Date: Jul 08, 2019 14:23:00 IST