Congress Descent Into Darkness

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The Indian National Congress that was in government at the Centre and in practically the rest of India for full two decades after independence, is today in serious danger of losing power everywhere. Its position is akin to a man trapped in quicksand, desperately looking for help. The glaring difference is India’s 131 year Grand Old Party seems strangely oblivious to its fate, with a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude about the future.

The Congress, in short, is in a mulish mode of self-denial. Its ostrich like attitude is typical of an all-powerful man gradually losing control, but conceit and fear of ridicule renders him unable to acknowledge his predicament. It seems the grand old party has neither the inclination nor the time for self-correction.

Witness Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s stony silence on political developments since its humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections! In the last two years, Congress has lost power in Andhra, Telangana, Haryana, Maharashtra, Assam and Kerala. And a little before the Lok Sabha debacle, in December 2013, it lost power in Rajasthan and Delhi. The loss of eight state governments in a little over two years should have shaken the foundations of any political party, but there’s been barely a tremor in the Congress.

Sonia Gandhi may have made some perfunctory observations about the need for ‘introspection’ without apparent regard to the gravity of the situation. It is doubtful if her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi has any real comprehension of the crisis the party is now faced with. He seems to think his job is over with some brief tutored comments. He also seems to enjoy his frequent diatribe against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, again tutored. None of the party’s experienced senior leaders have had any comments to make on the steps needed to salvage political fortunes from a likely disaster in the next Lok Sabha elections due in the summer of 2019.

The slide in the Congress party’s political fortunes has been steady and steep. It would be ridiculous to assume this is not known to the high command, notably Sonia and her son Rahul. But there’s little evidence of correctives being applied

Even as it continues to lick its wounds after successive defeats, it is amusing to note that the Congress party has chosen to take comfort from the fact that it won four wards in the recent MCD by-polls in Delhi. It has exposed itself to public ridicule by interpreting these wins as its resurgence in the national capital. Senior leader Ajay Maken even thanked Rahul Gandhi for the party’s win in the four wards! It only underscored the sycophantic culture of the Congress.

If there is one thing that characterises the mental make-up of everyone in the party - from the ordinary worker to the high command – it is their obsessive preoccupation with the persona of Narendra Modi. The Congress Party’s entire universe appears to have been reduced to one question: Modi! How to tackle this Goliath?

The party’s often mindless attacks on Modi are indicative of desperation and utter helplessness. Everyone in the party seems convinced that Modi ‘usurped’ the throne in Delhi from the Congress by some black magic. They seem oblivious to the fact that Modi won a majority in a democratically held election; that he has a legitimate mandate to govern India for five years.

The tasteless comments of Mani Shankar Aiyar that “Modi is welcome to sell tea at the AICC office”, and he should forget about ever coming to Delhi as PM symbolised that very attitude. There’s little doubt Modi exploited the barbs to his advantage, turning the slings and arrows of his opponents into votes at the polls.

The Congress must begin introspection by first shedding its ‘Modi phobia’. It should look inwards honestly, to understand why the party lost. Only then can it take corrective steps to regain lost glory.

In today’s scenario, the past will hold little comfort for Congress. Gone are the days when the party could boast that even a lamp post, bearing the Congress symbol of the twin bullock, could win the election. That was the Congress of Nehru and Patel, of humble and sincere party workers who wore khadi, lived and practiced Spartan lives. All that started changing in the very first decade after independence. Gandhian khadi was only a cover for the greed and lust of Congress who saw political office as a commercial opportunity.

If Nehru built up the Congress, his daughter Indira Gandhi stifled internal democracy leading, inevitably, to its enfeeblement over successive years. Her son Rajiv did nothing to inject democracy into the party. Nor did he encourage the rise of a second line of command. It was the high command and nothing else.

A reluctant inheritor, Rajiv’s widow Sonia continued happily with dynastic politics. She did not brook any opposition to her leadership and systematically sidelined competent senior leaders who dared show signs of independence or ambition. She hated the guts and initiative displayed by PV Narasimha Rao, who was her own appointee as prime minister.

Rao not only took over the leadership of the party after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, he acted like a prime minister after moving into Racecourse Road. He did not wait for Sonia’s approval for his decisions. Rao would have continued as prime minister after the 1996 Lok Sabha polls if he had only listened to wiser counsel and struck an alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu instead of the discredited AIADMK, led by Jayalalithaa.

The Congress in Tamil Nadu broke over this issue with GK Moopanar floating his own Maanila Congress and allying with the DMK to contest both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections. DMK won all the 39 Lok Sabha seats and also returned to power in the state, scoring a big win in the assembly polls. At the Centre the Congress lost narrowly, giving way to the formation of the United Front government – a rainbow coalition that included the Maanila Congress, DMK apart from the Janata Dal.

Congress returned to power eight years later in 2004 and led the UPA government for two terms, till 2014. In all these years, Sonia did precious little to strengthen the party by encouraging powerful and competent regional leaders, who in the event were left frustrated.

Rahul became an MP in 2004 and is currently in his third term in the Lok Sabha. A priceless record of doing virtually nothing has marked his 12 years in parliament. Yet the position of party vice president has been thrust upon him. His conduct as an MP and politician has been singularly undistinguished, leading to him not being taken seriously. His father Rajiv had the support of India’s youth. But strangely, Rahul does not command their admiration or respect. He has failed to inspire them and this is something he should have realized by now. The Congress appears resigned to the inevitable – that Sonia Gandhi given age and reportedly not so good health cannot continue as president for long. But even as some senior leaders are batting hard for Rahul to take over the party leadership, many state units have revolted and it’s pretty clear whom the revolt is direct against.

Let’s begin with the one most recent, Chhattisgarh, where former Congress chief minister Ajit Jogi has left the party with a large flock and floated his own party. Jogi’s revolt followed similar ones in Assam and Uttarakhand. The rebels who left the party had a common grouse against Congress leadership, particularly Rahul Gandhi. They have accused him, and the collective leadership, of being indifferent to their complaints. Himanta Biswa Sarma’s desertion helped the BJP’s triumph in Assam in no small measure.

Sonia Gandhi may have made some perfunctory observations about the need for ‘introspection’ without apparent regard to the gravity of the situation

The Congress rebellion in Uttarakhand by former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna and his followers, nearly brought down the Harish Rawat government. Rawat is back in power thanks only to the state BJP’s unholy haste and subsequent mishandling by the Centre.

Jogi summed up the attitude of the Congress leadership when he said that trying to get a hearing in the party was akin to “bhains ke aage bin bajana (playing a flute before a buffalo)”. He minced no words when he warned that the Congress was incapable of taking on the ruling BJP in Chattisgarh. “The present-day Congress is different from the party led by Nehru, Indira, Rajiv and Sonia. Now, leaders with a mass base have no say in the organisation,” he lamented. Jogi’s rebellion came almost six months after the party expelled his son Amit, over alleged “fixing” of a 2014 assembly by poll, to ensure the victory of the BJP candidate.

There are reports of rebellion brewing against Meghalaya CM Mukul Sangma too. Former union minister and noted Maharashtra Congress leader Gurudas Kamat resigned from the party early in June. Though he claims he wanted to quit active politics, insiders say his decision was sudden and flowed from being ignored by the party high command – Sonia and Rahul.

It is pertinent here to note the comments by senior BJP leader and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitely on the recent developments in the Congress. He says, “Congress has been reduced to a crowd around a family....their problem is the one faced by a party which is centred around a family. The first problem of such a party is to see that no leadership develops outside the family, the second is that if there is a powerful generation like Nehru or Indira they make the party strong but if the next generation does not have that strength it drowns along with the party.

“It does not seem to now improve...the meaning of Congress free country does not mean the end of the party but the political culture followed by it and remove the blot it had put on way of governance. As an opponent we want Congress to remain in opposition.”

Jaitley’s comments could be described as ‘biased’, given that his loyalties lie with the BJP. Nevertheless, they carry a large grain of truth, if analysed dispassionately.

The revolt against the family may be put down sooner or later. That there has indeed been a revolt against the family may indicate a desire in a section of the party to have a ‘Family-Mukt Congress.’ That is a dangerous development for the family and all those who fawn on them.

Thus one can see a minor mutiny against the ‘family’ in all these developments. The mother-son duo cannot afford to ignore this dire development. If they do, they will only do at their own peril. It will not require BJP to ensure a “Congress-Mukt” India. The Congress will ensure it itself.

Summary

  • Losses in successive state elections has underscored the deep crisis facing the Congress party and its leadership
  • There’s no evidence of the party doing any genuine soul searching or introspection to overcome the political slide
  • Rahul has had an undistinguished tenure in the Lok Sabha, he has shown neither leadership, nor initiative
  • Revolts in state units of the Congress have galloped, the frustration of many competent regional satraps is like a time bomb waiting to go off
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