Narendra Modi, of course, has gifts of leadership that put him above his challengers. But even his admirers will agree that the weaknesses of the Congress are a big factor behind his success. Consider how the Congress reacted to his victory in 2019. Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president, but the party was too confused to get out of its dynastic fixation. It refused to accept his resignation. How did the confusion end? By choosing Sonia Gandhi as interim president.
‘Interim’ of course meant ‘indefinite’. Feeling embarrassed, she said last week that a new party president would be elected in the “not too distant future”. Read this alongside the report that “there is a clamour for Rahul to return to the helm.” In the circumstances, don’t dismiss the recurring reports that the Congress Party is on ventilator. The good news is that ventilators are rather efficient these days. Especially when used by a Grand Old Party that is renowned for its ability to die and yet live on, to expire without becoming diseased.
When the party failed to win a single seat in the last Delhi elections (63 out of its 66 candidates lost their deposits), Congressmen refused to read the message. One leader said that the new zero was not a defeat because in the 2015 election too it scored zero and therefore there was no loss. Logic that beats all logic.
It was left to Sharmistha Mukherjee to bring sanity back to the scene. In her customary no-nonsense tone, the daughter of Pranab Mukherjee said that the party was decimated in Delhi because of “inordinate delays in decision-making, a lack of strategy and unity at the state level, and demotivated workers”. These were facts known to all, but acknowledged by the fewest of the few. Result: Yesterday’s leaders rule with ideas from the day before yesterday.
At one point, Congressman Sandeep Dikshit, a respected name in Delhi, accused the party’s senior leaders of failing to find a new president for the party. Shashi Tharoor has been repeatedly airing the demand that the party elect a president. He said that “dozens of party leaders are saying privately” that there must be internal elections within the Congress. Many Congress leaders are scared that if such elections end up with a non-Gandhi president, groupism will knock down the party. That may well be the case. But won’t it be better for groupism to play itself out while the Gandhis are around? The Congress can grow only when it stands on the strength of internal electoral fidelities.
Today the Congress is in a respectable position only in a few states. In Punjab and Chhattisgarh, it is relatively comfortable. In Rajasthan, a tired, old wire-puller has managed to stay in power, dirtying the name of the party in the process. In Maharashtra, it hangs on the tails of the Shiv Sena. In Puducherry, it not only takes help from the DMK, but also agrees to cope with a Governor who imagines that she is some kind of a super chief minister. It is a pathetic plight for a party which at one point could boast that even a broomstick would be elected if it had a Congress ticket.
In the few spots where it has power, Congress does not enjoy a good name. That’s because it flaunts only the Gandhi name. It does not flaunt names that could have brought it more legitimacy, names like Mallikarjun Kharge, Manmohan Singh, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, A K Antony. There are other ignored names that could have brought it a touch of youthful glamour — Milind Deora, Jitin Prasada, Deepender Hooda. Ignoring them, the party almost lost one of its shining stars, Sachin Pilot.
Karnataka’s Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao, holding the presidentship on an interim basis till last March, had to plead for an elected party chief in the state. “Our workers and leaders are in a state of confusion,” he said. In Kerala, young voices are not heard in the Congress.
Sonia Gandhi herself has now realised that her sell-by date is over. But her party is nowhere near internal elections despite Shashi Tharoor’s proddings. This may seem like an internal Congress party problem. In fact, it is a problem that concerns all of India. Democracy has become a bit of a farce with the BJP having an unhealthy majority in Parliament, leading to the Prime Minister pursuing an authoritarian line with no one to question him effectively. The alternative to a meaningful opposition is a one-party dictatorship.
T J S George