The fall of the Congress is the principal reason for the rise of the BJP. This was clear in 2014 when the reticent, text-reading Sonia Gandhi was no match to the eloquent, conquistadorial Narendra Modi. It was reinforced in last month’s five-state election when the Congress was decimated across the board. India’s founding political party has reached a stage where it knows it has fallen, knows what it must do to get on its feet again, but has no guts to do it. The extent of this cadaverous state will be the determining factor again in the major state elections next year and the parliamentary elections in 2019. If the Congress does not rise from the mortuary at least in time for 2019, it might not get another chance.
With hindsight, Mahatma Gandhi’s appeal for the winding up of the Congress upon independence now looks not only ethical but also wise. After all the Indian National Congress was not a political party; it was a people’s movement for independence.
Jawaharlal Nehru defied Gandhi’s advice and made the Congress a party. It gave the Congress a big advantage to begin with; as the saying went in those days, even a lamp post put up by the Congress would get elected.
That was a short-term advantage because the idea was fundamentally flawed. A democracy needs two or three parties, competing on different ideological platforms. Nehru prevented other parties from coming up so that he could win easily. Despite his professed socialism, he engineered the fading away of even the Congress socialists led by people like Jayaprakash Narayan. His cabinet was a hotchpotch of conservatives, business tycoons, corporate executives, capitalists, rightists, leftists and plain camp followers. If Gandhi’s advice had been taken, there would have been a leftist party under Nehru, a rightist party under Sardar Patel, and probably a Hindu nationalist grouping under Syama Prasad Mukherjee. That would have provided a healthy base for democracy to develop.
The multiplex character of the Congress prevented it from becoming a party with a defined ideology and a cadre of leaders committed to that ideology. It was left to Indira Gandhi to give the party what looked like an ideology—dynastic hegemony. The power of her personality ensured that Congress leaders not only accepted the anti-democratic concept but also started justifying it with more loyalty than the King’s. The Congress started losing its credentials.
Popular acceptance of the dynasty idea declined steadily after Indira, hitting rock-bottom with Rahul Gandhi. He created a bad first impression, appearing to be a part-time politician with frequent disappearances. We don’t know if that phase has passed. What we know is that his big speeches in Parliament and many appearances with common people, students and Dalits have not made much of an impact. He looks amateurish and not grown up. He just doesn’t have it in him.
The cronies who matter in the top-heavy Congress will argue that if he gives up his number two status and takes over the presidentship of the party from his mother, he will flower and all will be well. Indeed, in their desperate search for ways to make the party relevant again, Congressmen might try to make Rahul Gandhi the party President. That will be a move towards Congress-mukt Bharat. For the Congress, Rahul Gandhi is not the solution. He is the problem.
If the Congress is to revive itself, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi must leave the scene. For good. They must have nothing do with the party or with politics, only then will the party get a chance to rebuild itself. The immediate impact may be a spurt in factionalism. But Congress has split before and regrouped. It must regroup now with a clear policy platform and a leadership seen by the people as clean. That is the only way to become a democratic party with a fair chance to compete in the electoral field.
With the Gandhis must go every leader tainted with corruption. Fortunately for the party, there are leaders senior enough and capable enough who are untainted, Kapil Sibal and Jairam Ramesh, Mallikarjun Kharge and
Ajay Maken. There are also younger men who have proved their mettle: Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora. In the states there are a whole lot of thinking Congressmen, modernistic, socially aware, environment and climate-conscious. If these men and women take over with no High Command to constrict them, the Congress will live to see another day. If not, the High Command alone will fly high.