Congress - The Mouse That Roared
More of the same
As expected, a fairly good albeit desperate move by a section of Congress leaders has come to nought. The letter ‘leaked’ to the media basically calling for an ‘on the field’ and full time leadership, elections and wide reforms triggered the usual reaction at 10 Janpath with Congress president Sonia Gandhi resigning so that everyone could realise how ‘hurt’ and upset she was, and then after a Congress Working Committee where every member reiterated his or her loyalty, agreeing to continue as the interim President until any changes as she thought were fit, were made. If at all.
Having covered the Congress most of my working years it was clear from the onset that nothing really would come of the fairly candid letter, even though the signatories included prominent personalities of the party and those who could not really be described as dissidents, except by the delusional. The CWC meeting confirmed this with the ‘dissidents’ of other times shouting out those who had signed this particular letter, and in the process all demonstrating that nothing has changed within the Congress, and much remains the same. In that the party comprises individuals as leaders, not one who can see eye to eye, and hence the need for a Nehru-Gandhi regardless of merit and experience, to be in the lead.
The Congress as a party had the opportunity to rid itself of the Family that many whisper against, when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was so suddenly assassinated. His widow Sonia Gandhi was at that time genuinely reluctant to pick up the reins of power. The result was, to cut a long story short, a gradual but steady erosion as Congress members drifted out of the party for other pastures. The flow became a stream, and led to renewed pressure on Sonia Gandhi to take over, and somehow stop the party from extinction. She stepped in, and some level of cohesion returned even though she brought little to nothing except the family name to the table at the time. It must be remembered that most of the leaders then who had pleaded with her to take over, are those who are there now (having signed various letters at different points in time!) older, grayer and with far less energy. In that if they could not take over the mantle of leadership then, there is certainly very little they can do now.
Vested interests started growing around the new Congress president, as she leaned on them heavily to manage the daunting task of running India’s oldest political party without any credentials whatsoever. The vested interests remain today as the inter-dependence has only increased not decreased with time.
That there is no strategy, no plan, little interest, and low commitment is evident from the manner in which the party is being run. The Congress has had duly elected governments snatched from under its nose, with prominent leaders having crossed over to the BJP or flirting with it sufficiently to ring alarm bells. Rajasthan has been saved by a whisker and more because of BJP's Vasundhara Scindia who, according to the grapevine, did not want Sachin Pilot in the BJP to queer her pitch. So she is said to have ensured that the state BJP was not welcoming, and finally Pilot despite trying hard. was unable to get the number of MLAs necessary to cross over from the Congress to the BJP. How long he will stay will depend on the coming weeks, but suffice it to say that Pilot has lost considerable stature within the Congress party, painting himself out from a central position.
There were two ways in which Sonia Gandhi could have handled the missive signed by senior leaders of her party. One, taken it on board, called a meeting, discussed the issues threadbare, announced a strong plan of action along with elections to the CWC, and then resigned leaving the coast clear for a new leadership. And in the process made it clear that she was supportive of the suggestions, would unhesitatingly throw her weight behind the restructuring of the party so that its efficacy was not challenged in the field and it was revived sufficiently to counter the BJP as a democrative, secular alternative.
The second option was to throw a tantrum, take it all personally and resign. She chose the latter, as she has always done at the first sign of dissent within the Congress. So the CWC met, various leaders brought their fractious baggage to the room and squabbled over loyalties, and finally a resolution was passed that effectively stated that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have provided a great leadership. That the members should not go to the media with their differences, and that it was now left to the interim President to decide the future course of action.
In other words, what appeared to be a bomb was little more than a mouse that had tried to roar with lno impact on the supremacy of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
The Congress DNA has led the members to believe in the force of the TINA (there is no alternative) factor. They have not been able to get rid of it. The absence of introspection and discussion within the party keeps it confused about the issues at stake, and compromises its ability to evolve a strong alternative strategy to counter the BJP in the field.
The signatories to the letter were right in asking for a strong leadership visible on the ground, except for the fact perhaps that most of them are Upper House members and not exactly known for their prowess with commoners. Rahul Gandhi had tried to break out briefly but the strong attack on him led by the BJP no doubt, but with the Congress at the back, managed to marginalise whatever little he was trying to achieve in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The absence of a party organisation in these states was a major factor as well, with even the little that existed torn between internal rifts and fights within.
This is the problem. Sonia Gandhi does not know her party, except for those crowding Delhi and seeking appointments with her at 10 Janpath. There is little recognition of state district leaders, of grassroot workers with the result that over the years the Congress party has been decimated where it matters the most ---tehsils and districts. Even the residue is fast disappearing and this is perhaps the first period after Partition, that the Congress has lost meaningful poll booth presence in the hinterland of UP and Bihar.
The Congress cannot survive without the Nehru-Gandhi family. The problem that is prompting eruptions - like this letter -every now and again is the growing realisation that the Congress cannot survive with the Nehru-Gandhi family either.
The vested interests--- at different levels--- have taken control of the leadership and the party, and come into play whenever anyone starts taking initiatives that appear threatening to the status quo of mediocrity.
The Sonia Gandhi persona is in itself so minimalist that the party managers have learnt to live with it ---some rather happily. The Rahul Gandhi persona is not as minimalist, threatens the status quo, and often jolts the party out of its slumbering complacency. So he is clearly a threat, that explains why the Congress individual leaders join the BJP in its tirade against him.
It might have taken Rahul Gandhi time to get comfortable in the arena of politics, and his problem today is not a lack of ideas, commitment or willingness to be in the field, but the absence of party support. He had wanted to but has not been able to build a new party for as soon as he gets a few good persons together, they are torn asunder by the crafty old men who rule. And have successfully formed a cordon around his mother as well, where she listens to them for she believes them to be the voice of the Congress. Which they are not, but then who is to challenge them without upsetting the apple cart as we have all just witnessed.
There is no one who can take over the Congress except someone from within the Nehru-Gandhi family. That is certain as there is too much at stake in more ways than one. So the wise will accept this, then look at the Nehru-Gandhi family, and then realise that of the three it has to offer Rahul Gandhi certainly has been the most consistent, adventurous, and bold. He will have to jump over the obstacles laid in his way by the Congress, lengthen his stride, and without bothering about the finish line ensure that the track is clean and dry and under his control. A tall order but in his ability to do so lies the future of the Congress. Anything less, and not just the family but the party can retire into oblivion.