Dharmendra Jore: Congress, ie Rahul, needs more than new packaging

Published: 19 March, 2018 06:10 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Restoring credibility, establishing itself in a leadership position of an ambitious anti-Modi coalition won't be easy tasks for the grand old party ahead of 2019 polls

Dharmendra JoreIn the Congress, those who think they are among its prominent leaders wrestle with each other to grab a prime position on a ceremonial dais. It always looks funny when leaders sit on pillows, while getting parked on a Bharatiya Baithak spread, apparently to appear 'a notch above' others.

Party president Rahul Gandhi tried to subdue a hierarchical dominance in the 84th plenary session of the Congress over the last weekend. He made all leaders, including his mother, ex-PM, ex-Cabinet ministers sit in the audience, albeit in the front row. He himself sat with them, becoming a harbinger of some hope for the lowly party workers, who the leaders have been keeping at a distance. It will be interesting to see if Rahul's act is replicated everywhere or just dismissed as a gimmick.

This Congress plenary will also be remembered for Rahul's approach to the young and old in the party. He allied fears that the old guard will be ignored downright in order to pump in youth power, which was given adequate opportunity to express its views at the conclave. He said it was a Congress tradition to embrace change without forgetting the party's legacy.

Legacy under criticism
The very legacy that Rahul doesn't want to be forgotten has been a matter of hard criticism by Congress adversaries. Its lower ranks that have been firing the Congress engine for decades have never been happy with leaders who have transferred power within their families. However, the same workers want none else but the Gandhi family to command their party.

Last December, these columns said a collective voice - people who don't hold any position in the Congress but work and vote for - wants Rahul to re-establish a missing connect between the top leadership and the people who feel disowned by the party. Selfish leadership at the mid level, and a lack of interlocutors who can facilitate a dialogue between the top and grass roots, has harmed the Congress ecosystem more than anything else.

The opinion expressed then hasn't changed a bit even now, and, in fact, becomes even more prominent in the wake of Rahul's new approach and appeal. Workers continue to feel that the real challenge for their leader would be to rid the party of existing pests and fumigate the organisation for preventing any further rot, if he were to encourage party workers to defeat the BJP by their hard work and commitment.

Restoring credibility
Re-establishing credibility of the party, which took a heavy beating in the Modi wave, cannot be accomplished without a good combination of clean leaders (say party candidates) and workers, who go door to door. The Congress should be able to convince people that it must be voted to power, not just to bring the BJP down, but also to correct the mistakes that had led to a crushing defeat in 2014. On the other side, the BJP will seeking yet another term, questioning yet again the credibility of Congress. It will promise more and more to the voters, notwithstanding allegations that it has failed to deliver in the current term.

Modi vs Rest
The Congress lost deposits in BJP's defeats in UP by-polls, and yet overflowed exuberance of winners at the cost of becoming a laughing stock. It said it was willing to ally "with all like-minded parties" with a "pragmatic approach" to defeat the Modi government in 2019.

Meetings after meetings are slated to be held for forging an alliance, preferably one like UPA-I. But that may not happen just like that because 'the rest' that opposes Modi is split, wide and open.

Players with a similar idea but different approach are in the rink, thus creating a possibility of collision instead of coalition.

Up north, Uttar Pradesh continues to be a game changer in any Lok Sabha polls.

Having found love for each, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have vowed to cohabit in their heartland. Will they participate in a Congress-promoted grand alliance or go elsewhere?

Ruling regional parties led by Mamata Banerjee (Bengal) and Chandrashekhar Rao (Telangana) are trying for a non-BJP, non-Congress third front.

Down south, except Kerala and Karnataka, regional forces decide the fate of national parties that aspire for a government in Delhi. And not to forget Biju Janata Dal (Odisha) and Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (Bihar).

It remains to be seen if Rahul gets to lead a grand coalition.

Till then, Congress may draw some energy from the fact that BJP president Amit Shah had to invoke Congress legacy, the late Indira Gandhi, for showing Modi in a situation that the former PM had overcome successfully.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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