Feeble old party

Jun 02, 2014, 08:00 IST | Smita Prakash

There is nothing really left of the Grand Old Party, the Indian National Congress, other than ‘old’. But it seems that the electoral shock of a near total wipeout has not resulted in any churning or ‘manthan’. The young brigade, which in Indian politics means those in their forties and fifties, are confronted with a moth eaten fabric. They are unable to come to terms with the new reality.

In need of a new wave: The threat that the BJP campaign rolled out of a Congress-mukt Bharat, doesn’t seem all that incredible anymore; unless the Congress can rise from the ashes soon.

When the Congress party faced a similar crisis in the 1990s, it saw many senior leaders walk away from the party. A fear of similar exodus especially by regional leaders now is holding the Congress leadership back from executing a sudden and major overhaul.

Some leaders have said that Rahul’s team needs to be purged and the old guard who have wisdom of experience be brought back into decision making. But regional leaders and CLP members who have been meeting the party leadership continue to say that the Gandhi family is the glue that is holding the party together. Political experts, however, are unanimous that the sell by date on this glue is long gone by.

Even Rahul Gandhi seems to have floated the idea that he would prefer to have Jyotiraditya Scindia as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha instead of himself or Kamal Nath. A brave thought indeed, if he can get the old brigade in the party to agree. What kind of an opposition will Congress provide with most of the strong debaters now having lost the election? Rahul Gandhi has himself not proven to be a great parliamentarian in his two stints.

There is no consensus on who should be the leader in the Rajya Sabha, with AK Antony not keen on taking on the responsibility and Ghulam Nabi Azad’s term nearing completion. Ambika Soni’s name is doing the rounds, but she has just lost an election so there are murmurs that she should not be ‘rewarded’.

But, in the past, there is no sign that a collective decision is being taken. It is still the ‘High Command’ that will decide. Sonia Gandhi continues to be enigmatic in her stony silence.

The threat that the BJP campaign rolled out of a Congress-mukt Bharat, doesn’t seem all that incredible anymore; unless the Congress can rise from the ashes soon.

The party’s first reactions to the humiliating defeat itself were cringing. The top few in the party thanked the Gandhi family for campaigning very hard! Really? And then restored their undying faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Wonderful. And this when Sonia Gandhi herself said that the party made many mistakes and did not see the writing on the wall.

And why didn’t they see the writing when it was evident to everybody? When you don’t want to see the truth, then well-meaning journalists who tell you the truth are villains who have been bought over by corporate houses; party workers who tell you the truth are opportunists wanting spoils of war. Wearing blinkers, to think that traditional vote banks will vote for them regardless of what they do, will reward them despite their inertia and arrogance. The BJP campaign even brought people not connected with politics to work towards defeating the UPA. Who did the Congress campaign bring? A new ad agency.

The dam has not burst but the cracks are visible now. Party workers who behind closed doors have been expressing irritation and disappointment with the lack of energetic leadership are now openly voicing their opinions. Bhanwar Lal Sharma from Rajasthan said, “Rahul Gandhi is enjoying authority as he belongs to the Gandhi family. He has not come through a democratic process. Democratic system should be there and nobody should be imposed. Party leaders should think beyond Priyanka and Rahul.” From Kerala TH Mustafa called Rahul a joker; Milind Deora, Priya Dutt, Manish Tewari and Abhishek Singhvi have made some stinging comments. But the party, in its typical way, has jumped to defend the leadership and attack the messengers.

The Congress has to sit in the opposition in Parliament for the next five years. Hold primaries … not token primaries for a handful of constituencies, but a comprehensive one for leadership of the Congress party. It needs to treat the Gandhi family members like ordinary members of the Congress, encourage free exchange of ideas and opinions, end the feudal culture of the party, and get professional help in setting up systems. But most importantly, it must get rid of the malaise in its leadership.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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