The Congress Party is reeling under a power outage. Having failed in its bid for electoral dominance in May, the outfit that led India’s freedom struggle is headless and rudderless. Exactly a hundred years ago, Motilal Nehru was the first of his clan to preside over the Congress, starting from its plenary session in Amritsar. Will the party create history again by declaring independence from the Gandhi dynasty? After going belly up for the second consecutive time in the Lok Sabha elections, party president Rahul Gandhi has thrown in the towel. Contrary to tradition, this Gandhi has refused to concede to courtiers’ cacophony to withdraw his resignation.
But the search for an alternative leader remains in limbo. RaGa has refused to take the next democratic test in 2024. He has perhaps realised that ‘Gandhi’ is no longer a politically potent password to victory. His family can perhaps hold the faction-ridden 130-year old Grand Old Party together but cannot offer salvation to power-hungry Congressmen. By quitting much before his five-year term ends, Rahul’s name will go down in history as the first Nehru-Gandhi who helmed the party for the shortest period since Independence.
As the 87th AICC President, he was in the catbird seat for less than two years. Previous family members had stayed on top for much longer periods. Jawaharlal Nehru presided over three party sessions. Indira Gandhi took over in 1978 and remained the boss till her death in 1984. Son Rajiv, then a general secretary, was anointed the president by brownnosers and was both prime minister and Congress Superman. It was only after his assassination in 1991 that a non-Gandhi—P V Narasimha Rao—was picked to lead the party when Sonia Gandhi refused. But the Gandhis couldn’t wait for long. Soon after the defeat of the Rao-led Congress, she became chief in 1998 and broke all records by holding the post for 19 long years. But her son couldn’t carry the mantle even for 19 months. Rahul’s exit is, in fact, the only chance for the Congress to rediscover itself.
According to the party Constitution, once the president quits, the AICC stands dissolved. An interim chief has to be appointed to conduct the election for the legitimate chief for the remainder of the term. However, no such action has been initiated. For the first time in Congress history, decisions on organisational changes are being announced in the name of a non-existent AICC. State Committees in Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have been dissolved by the signatures of an invisible hand. Members of the Gandhi Parivar are keeping schtum on all important political matters. Even the debate on the Presidential address to Parliament was led by a non-Gandhi in the Lok Sabha. Except for occasional tweets by spokesperson R S Surjewala, the GOP seems to have slipped into a coma.
The rout of many young Congress leaders in the past Lok Sabha elections has led to the disastrous demoralisation of GenNext. Previously they were hated by the old guard for getting undue attention from RaGa. Now they are ridiculed for failing the ballot bout. The Congress at the moment has no mass leader, neither at the national level nor in its state ranks. Its satraps are losing political relevance. In smaller states like Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi, the victory margin of BJP candidates was above three lakh with two of the top four winners hailing from Haryana alone.
Congressmen blame RaGa for not paying much attention to organisation-building and spending too much time with the Khan Market Gang, which has little political proficiency or experience. After four decades of having in its ranks prominent leaders from each community, caste and region, it now has hardly any neta with the mojo to bring victory even in municipal elections, let alone an Assembly poll. Yet the Congress remains the only other political party with a pan-Indian footprint. It polled over 12 crore votes this time. It was in a direct fight with the BJP in over half the states. However, it can revive itself only through genuine democratisation of its organisation. The first bona fide AICC election was held when Rao was the prime minister. Since then the Gandhis have been dictating the shape of the electoral college. Today, it has powerful state leaders like Ashok Gehlot, Amarinder Singh, Kamal Nath, Siddaramaiah, Bhupinder Singh Hooda,
A K Antony, Oomen Chandy, Veerappa Moily, et al., to collectively lead the party. It also has young leaders like Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ajay Maken and Deepender Hooda who along with Priyanka Gandhi can rebuild the organisation from scratch. If the Gandhis are genuinely interested in taking the party out of ICU, they must appoint an interim president and convene a special AICC session to elect a new president. Let all contenders fight for a truthful mandate from the grass-roots corps. The Gandhis may retain ownership rights. Gandhis have always avoided accountability for their failures and they refrain from answering questions from any quarters.
For the past five years, the party has closed its doors to outsiders. It has neither the imagination nor vision to attract new talent because its local leaders are afraid of losing their perks and influence to newcomers with intellect and intelligence. On the other hand, Narendra Modi’s BJP became the world’s largest political outfit in five years. Modi trusted national newcomer Amit Shah to lead it. Shah used all the tricks of the trade and more, to destroy the BJP’s opponents. He raided almost every party from the CPM to the Congress to make his outfit unambiguously national in nature. In the quest for total dominance, nothing or nobody was untouchable. As the BJP bloated in terms of size and influence, the Congress shrank beyond recognition. RaGa and Sonia Gandhi couldn’t spot the termites eroding their party’s very foundations.
As the Congress weakened, so did the constructive Opposition. Is it because of a Gandhi that the nation has been deprived of an effective Opposition in Parliament and in most states? Modi aimed for a Congress-Mukt Bharat. He has clinched its eviction from substantial parts of India. A large section of the party feels that if the GOP can guarantee a Gandhi-Mukt Congress, it could still give Mission Modi a run for its money.
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