“Dude, who is Kamraj?” “He was a swarthy skinned, lungi wearing Southie, who kind of got Congressis to quit ministerial posts and work for the party.” “Wow! And they did?” “Yup, in 1963, and the dude didn’t have social media, cell phones, not even the Internet to charge them up.” “Kinda cool huh?”
Yes, cool it was. 1962-63: it seems like a lifetime ago. When Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister, India had just lost a war to China, Non-Alignment and Panchsheel were in tatters, and our economy was struggling. In short, it was not a good time to be an Indian. But the oldest political party had seen the writing on the wall. There was growing disenchantment in the country with the Congress party, despite the all-forgiving sentiment towards Nehru who looked tired, defeated and helpless. After three terms as prime minister, even Nehru’s charisma seemed to be fading.
In came Kumarasami Kamraj, chief minister of Tamil Nadu and veteran Congressman who persuaded six chief ministers and six cabinet ministers to give up their jobs and work for the party. The list was announced at a CWC meet on August 10, 1963. In doing so, some ‘undesirable’ chief ministers were eased out of their jobs permanently and the party galvanised to work at the cadre level. Nehru would have won a fourth term in office but he died as prime minister. Lal Bahadur Shastri then became the prime minister, with Kamraj playing the role of king maker.
Congress party is in a similar situation today as it was in the 1960s. The old guard has read the writing on the wall: there is deep rooted anger and disappointment in the Congress party which was reflected in the assembly elections. They also know that it cannot be dismissed as ‘localitis’ and unless something drastic is done, Verdict 2014 could see the Congress party reduced to a double digit number. In fact many have resigned to the idea of sitting in the opposition or giving outside support to a non-BJP front.
But there is one small, nascent attempt at a mini-Kamraj plan in the offing. It is not being spearheaded by a single figure as in 1963 but by some like-minded Congressmen and women who feel that there is still a sliver of hope. Environment Minister Jayanthi Natrajan resigned on Saturday to work for the party. Over the next few days, more ministers are expected to quit their jobs. Most of them are from the Rajya Sabha. They can thus be deployed by the party to work anywhere in the country as they will not be busy with their re-election. Others who could be called upon to work for the party are Digvijaya Singh, Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Gurudas Kamat, Mohan Prakash, Ajay Maken, Madhusudan Mistry, C P Joshi, Shakeel Ahmed and Mukul Wasnik.
Some of them are already working on the agenda that Rahul Gandhi has chalked out for them. Senior Congressmen are skeptical of Rahul and his eager-beavers who delivered a bunch of duds in the assembly elections and don’t seem to have any new tricks up their sleeves for 2014. That Rahul could not draw crowds, applause or votes is a no-brainer. But how do you draw up courage to say this at a CWC or at the AICC?
If Rahul is going to be anointed as the PM candidate (did you say elected?), then he and his team need a make over. It should begin with stock-taking: What went wrong in the four states? What is wrong in the party? Can it be corrected? How many people need to be axed? Who will cull? Who will be the new faces? What programmes need to be junked? What promises need to be made? Are they deliverable? And a slew of other questions along these lines.
But the shocking thing is that two weeks after the results, there is an eerie silence in the party. As if by being ostrich-like, they can pretend that they can fight the next election without a systems overhaul. A minor Kamraj plan by a few lightweights cannot deliver to the Congress what it desperately needs. There is no leader who is bold enough to take charge and rejuvenate the party. Even a newbie like the Aam Aadmi Party seems more enthusiastic about fighting the 2014 elections when it has neither candidates nor programmes. Congress party looks tired, and looks defeated. It is perhaps too late now to expect miracles from Rahul Gandhi’s ideas machine and too late to junk that machine too.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash