There are many questions which are in need of answers. The answers to these questions are the key to Congress revival.
The Congress party has once again failed in the recently concluded Bihar assembly elections and in several by-polls across the country. Their failure has caused such a loss of face for the party that it even couldn’t even come up with a concrete statement about its defeat. Much has been talked about an uninspiring leadership and the incoherent ideological positions of the party that has resulted in the weakening of the organization at the ground level. What needs to be emphasized is the inability of the leaders of the party to accept the shortcomings in its functioning, as well as the inability of any other party leader to emerge as the logical choice to lead the party. This situation is worsening for the Congress.
The defeat in Bihar has now further complicated the process of the election or the selection of a full-time party president and a new Working Committee. While Sonia Gandhi’s health will not permit her continuance as an ad-hoc President, there is no visible reason to gift the post to Rahul Gandhi. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi is neither in nor out of the race, even though he maintains that he will not return as the party president. Yet, the Congress seems to be stuck on the following question: if not Rahul, then who?
Rahul Gandhi has cemented his unique place in Indian politics. He is being seen as a ray of hope by hundreds and thousands of ordinary Congress workers. However, millions of ordinary voters continue to favour Narendra Modi over Rahul Gandhi. While the Congress cannot fathom a future without the Gandhis, ordinary people have rejected the idea of Rahul Gandhi being the top leader of the ruling party. This paradox is proving to be the biggest advantage for the BJP at a national level. If the Congress tries its luck without the Gandhis, it is likely to fall apart in a devastating way. However, if the Congress continues to project Rahul Gandhi as its main leader, it will not win the elections.
This is probably the result of the Sonia-centrism in the party since 1998-99. Over the last 20 years, the processes have been established deliberately to create the inevitability of Sonia’s leadership in the party. It is amply clear that it has neither nurtured new leadership nor has it created a winning recipe for the Congress party. The grand old party has lost itself in a bhul-bhulaiyya wherein it is demonstrating sufficient survival instincts but no gumption to emerge from the darkness. What should the Congress party, or rather its leadership, do to rejuvenate the hopes of a revival?
Now, it is not the question of a revival in Uttar Pradesh or in the Hindi heartland but across the length and breadth of India! Is there a single state in India, except Punjab at this point, which could be termed as pocket-borough of the Congress party? Over the past several years, Rahul Gandhi has wanted to revive the party by winning the elections, but he conveniently forgot that without organization elections cannot be won. When was the last time that the Congress launched a national membership drive? How many of the intellectuals, independent social media warriors, social activists, and journalists who are speaking up against the Modi regime have been contacted by the Congress to join the party? Without convincing the anti-Modi non-party people to join the Congress and without appealing to the common people to be a part of the party, it will not be seen as a winning party in any of the elections.
The choice before Rahul Gandhi is quite clear. If he doesn’t want to don the hat of the party president, he must not pretend to lead the fight against the Modi government. If he doesn’t want any other leader or a collective leadership to take on the ruling party, he must officially lead the Congress. Whichever option he chooses, he should not project himself as the Prime Ministerial candidate. Can the Congress elect Prime Ministerial candidates who are not the Gandhis? The point is that the Congress needs out of box organizational thinking to remain in the race at the national level. Can it pose enough of a challenge to the NDA government? Is there any national governance idea that the Congress has come up with in the last six and a half years, except the NYAY? Why is it that the Congress-ruled states are not even partially implementing their own NYAY? This would pave the way for the Congress to press for the NYAY at the national level, or at least in the states where it is the main opposition.
Today, criticism of the Congress leadership is emerging in a few quarters of the party. The critics are rightly pointing out at the lack of structural processes within the party to discuss and debate political and organizational matters. However, they themselves have not been emphasizing what the precise weaknesses of the party are, vis-à-vis the strength of the BJP under PM Modi. Does the Congress have the ability to comprehend the broad social coalition rallying around Narendra Modi while trying to discover the weaknesses in the coalition? Brand Modi enjoys the support of the economically middle and lower-middle classes, the entrepreneurs and the business community, the non-dominant OBCs, the upper castes, comparatively less organized Dalits, people who are anti-Congress, the non-Sunni sects amongst the Muslims (to a certain extent), and the RSS and non-RSS variants of Hindutva followers. So which socio-economic coalition can the Congress strive to mobilize? The farmers, the industrial workers, politically conscious Dalits, tribals, dominant OBCs, Muslims, and unemployed youth can be the broad support base of the Congress and its allies. Which are the groups amongst PM Modi’s supporters that can be won over by the Congress to make its position better and stronger? If the Modi government has failed on the economic front, the business community and entrepreneurs will be disenchanted with the BJP. Who will encourage them to vote for the Congress and its allies? There are more and more questions which are in need of answers. The answers to these questions are the key to Congress revival.
Parimal Maya Sudhakar
21st Nov 2020