“A leader is a dealer in hope.”—Napoleon Bonaparte
Even after 193 years of his death, the great French Emperor’s words resonate with ageless truth. Napoleon’s bon mot fits the current Congress leadership to the last vowel. The 129-year-old party is not only in a state of political paralysis, but its leadership too is unable to raise the banner of hope proclaiming its relevance on the political battlefield. When even senior leaders like former finance minister and invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) P Chidambaram feel desperation, it is evident that the High Command is losing control over loyalists.
A casual visit to the Congress website makes it obvious that the party is living in the past. The homepage opens with a video of a bearded Rahul Gandhi wishing the nation Happy Diwali. So far so good. Most other sections only speak about the NDA government’s shortcomings. Another section deals with the history of Congress, with each page talking about the sacrifices made by its leaders, including the Gandhis. The site offers no roadmap for the future. The party is oblivious to the fact that the current political war is being fought in cyberspace and not on the dusty warfront in various states. Its workers would find no worthwhile plan or agenda on the website which could enthuse them to fight for the party. They are waiting for Sonia and Rahul to change not only their style and substance, but also the political company they have been keeping for the past few months.
The Gandhis are not known for their easy accessibility. But no partyman ever questioned this exclusivity, as long as the Family kept winning elections for them. Now partymen are urging them to step out of their SPG-protected fortresses and mingle with the grassroots. Ever since Congress’ defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, party workers have been expecting a major organisational surgery to rid the outfit of those who occupy high posts without accountability. Most Congress leaders are saddened by the fact that Sonia hasn’t thought it proper to call an emergency meeting of state and district-level officebearers to review the causes for the debacle and chart the future course. Four months have passed since the defeat, but not a single satrap’s head has rolled so far.
In the cacophony of dissenting voices lies the urgency of creating a new Congress under a leadership which can ensure ‘Achhe Din’ for party workers and leaders who can’t exist without power for long. Party members at all levels are seeking the answer to just one question: “Can Sonia and Rahul bring Achhe Din for them?” Humiliating defeats in Haryana and Maharashtra also seem to have shaken their faith in the Gandhis who once appeared infallible. It is not for the first time that the Family is under attack for its failure to lasso voters for the party. When the Congress lost many Assembly and Parliamentary elections in 1998-99, Sonia was accused of shrinking the party’s national base. Of late, the Gandhis have been facing virulent attacks for winning the minimum number of Lok Sabha seats and losing major states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to the opposition.
Politics, too, has become a business for making profit by exploiting a premium brand. If over 100 ex-Congress MPs, MLAs and officebearers have left the party to join the BJP or any other party in the past six months, it reflects the plummeting faith in the High Command. The defectors forgot that it was Sonia Gandhi who brought the party to power in 2004 and 2009. Chidambaram’s comment made the headlines without making news. If in the past, many non-Gandhis could become party presidents, it could happen in the future too. But all matters regarding the authority and utility of the current and future leadership has to be resolved if Congress wants to survive in politics.
However, as usual, the Congress is all about the Gandhis and Gandhis alone. Chidambaram, too, spoke about them and expects that one day a non-Gandhi may helm the party. Technically, he is right. Constitutionally, he is absolutely correct. Of the 16 Congress presidents since 1947, 12 were non-Nehru-Gandhis. However, three Gandhis—Indira, Rajiv and Sonia— have occupied AICC presidency for 30 years out of 68. It is also a reality that the others were anointed party chiefs only after prior concurrence of a Gandhi or Nehru. It’s natural for Congress to be reconciled to the idea of a Gandhi-led Congress on a permanent basis, albeit with scary expectations. At the moment, both mother and son haven’t been able to provide either a slogan or an agenda to face the Modi juggernaut. The PM is flinging gauntlets by coining new slogans and announcing fresh schemes, whose merits cannot be opposed.
Veteran Congressmen are expecting the Family to deliver a brand new Congress. Each Gandhi created his or her own apparatus, apparatchiks and agenda soon after taking over as party boss. Indira got rid of the syndicate and coined ‘Garibi Hatao’. Even Sanjay Gandhi created an aggressive young brigade, which pushed his five-point programme that included family planning and environment. Rajiv Gandhi brought in his own team from the corporate sector and chose technology as his mission. But the Sonia and Rahul team haven’t come up with any inspiring epiphany to energise the party. Old loyalists remain entrenched in powerful bodies like the CWC. Out of its 40 members, over 20 have hardly ever won an election or carried the party to victory in their respective states. Most Pradesh Congress Committees have become centres of group rivalries. Unless the Gandhis rediscover themselves, their rediscovery of India’s post- Modi politics will never succeed. For the Congress, the Gandhi brand is like Reliance or Tata, which can go through many crests and troughs but will never vanish. They will always remain top of the mind. But like the Tatas and the Ambanis, the Gandhis have to sculpt a team which can repackage and market a 129-year-old brand, the Congress.
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