Politics and leadership are about action, not holding a position. The new wave of politics that has emerged in the last six years requires three things: a perpetual necessity of populist rhetoric, winning the war of perception and a strong trait of decisionism. With these traits, a leader and their party has a reasonable chance to increase the winnability quotient on the plank of both material or cultural politics.
For instance, the BJP has maintained its hegemony at the national level primarily on the plank of cultural politics; the material factors have been the sub-text. On the other hand, many regional parties or the regional satraps of the Congress have scored electoral wins against the BJP by riding high on the wave of material politics. Thus, contemporary India presents a political scenario where the national political stage is witnessing the preponderance of the BJP and cultural politics, while the regional scenario presents a heterogenous and split scenario.
However, even at the regional level, one distinct trend that everyone witnesses is the political paralysis afflicting the Congress party/governments. This paralytic state emanates from their being captive to an outmoded conservative and lazy outlook that arises from a false sense of entitlement. Therein one assumes the political field would remain still till they assess the situation and make their first move. A cursory glance at some recent events at state levels would suffice.
Last month in Manipur, the BJP-led NEDA government faced a decisive blow on account of withdrawal of support by its allies. The regional Congress veteran and ex-CM Okram Ibobi Singh showed his political acumen to cash upon the crisis and brought the dissidents into his party’s fold, thereby ensuring the incumbent government was in a minority for the time being. However, ultimately he lost the plot as the national leadership of the BJP, from Amit Shah to Ram Madhav and Himanta Biswa Sarma, quickly resolved the crisis. Here, the national Congress leadership failed to act decisively and ultimately the regional leader felt abandoned. This is equally true of many other small states in the Northeast like Meghalaya, where the BJP denied the Congress the corridors of power despite the latter emerging as the single largest party.
Hence, the central leadership of the grand old party is not only a failure at the national level, but also acts as a dead weight against its own regional leaders. One hasn’t forgotten the 2017 episode in Goa wherein the Congress lost the plot in spite of getting 17 seats out of 40 while the BJP, with just 13 seats, formed the government. This was primarily on account of the sluggish and royal approach of the then state-in-charge Digvijaya Singh who wasted precious time, while the BJP’s central leadership clinched the deal. This approach poses an existential threat to the Congress at a time when every regional political fortune is deeply tied to the interest and ability of the national leadership.
Behind these political inactions lies the continuance of the old guards’ patronising attitude without having a corresponding mass base. Nevertheless, they acquire their prominence in the party by their unquestioned loyalty to the Gandhis, who themselves are a captive of the plot that they weave. This then necessarily pits them against the non-pliable and relatively young Congress leaders, who are laden with spirit and command a credible mass base. The more the electoral prospect of the party dwindles, the worse has been the record of the inner circle and the Gandhis in consistently alienating and humiliating the charismatic and capable younger leaders. The list is long.
On account of the misplaced arrogance of the Gandhis and the inner circle, the party lost Andhra Pradesh beyond redemption when the self-entitled Gandhis rejected the entitlement of Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy in the name of inner-party democracy. Today, Jagan rules Andhra Pradesh. In the same way, they made Himanta Biswa Sarma join the BJP, leading to the Congress losing the plot in the entire Northeast. Recently, it happened in MP with Jyotiraditya Scindia, the only leader who has a pan-state appeal and under whose name the party fought and won the 2018 state election, leaving the party. Now, it is Sachin Pilot who is the latest manifestation. Given the arithmetic, the Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot would survive the crisis, but the malaise it points to is an indication of something deeper.
Today, the Congress central leadership behaves like an agent of Twitterati democracy. Therein they share a moral but not political outrage, as if both are one and the same. Forget about ameliorating the moribund state of the party in the Hindi heartland of UP and Bihar. The party believes that Priyanka Gandhi could wrest the state from the BJP merely on account of her resemblance to Indira Gandhi and by infesting the rank and file of the party with left-wing cadre, who are experts at making noise but are proven illiterates in the art of reading the ground scenario. The majority of them belong to the category who aren’t interested in ousting the Modi regime from power. Rather, they cherish beholding the platform that gives them endless opportunity to vent their ideological anger against the ascendency of the Right. In opposing Modi, they find spiritual satiation. Defeating the BJP electorally isn’t as gratifying.
Politics is about the ability to manage contradictions. In passively purging the party of the capable and non-pliable regional leadership, the Congress has forgotten its own past of being an umbrella party. Why? Because the central leadership and inner circle are more interested in controlling the dwindling power and resources of the party than doing politics. At a time when the majority of the electorate doesn’t want the Gandhis to be their leader, insisting on the same and offering the argument that without them, the party would collapse, signifies the clownish wisdom of decadent feudals—who believed that the march of democracy had threatened social stability and without their enlightened leadership, society would collapse. It is high time the party adapts to the new wave of politics that demands spirited and permanent investment on the ground and offers leaders with capability and a connect to the people. However, for that, the Gandhis and the party’s inner circle need to take a backseat as they symbolise the death of politics.
Political Analyst associated with People’s Pulse