Leaderless Congress in India gropes in the dark - GulfToday

Leaderless Congress in India gropes in the dark

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Rahul-Gandhi-750

Rahul Gandhi

More than a month after Congress President Rahul Gandhi offered his resignation, accepting moral responsibility for the party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections, it remains leaderless. Although Gandhi turned down appeals to withdraw his resignation, efforts are still on to persuade him to stay on.

Some party leaders have mooted the idea of retaining him as President and appointing a Working President to hold the fort until he is ready to resume work. They have also proposed some names for the post but no consensus has emerged.

The Working President concept is one which parties in India have invoked from time to time. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted party chief Amit Shah into the Cabinet as Home Minister the Bharatiya Janata Party has gone in for a Working President to reduce the burden on him.

The Congress leadership appears to be oblivious of the damage being caused by the inordinate delay in filling the vacuum at the top.  There is demoralisation at all levels in the party and it will not end until someone who can inspire workers at the grassroots level is in charge.

The next parliamentary elections are due only in 2024. But there is a lot to do for the party to redeem itself and perform well next time. The leaderless party is groping in the dark. It has not been able to assess the causes of the poll debacle let alone chart a next course of action.  

The BJP against which it is pitted is battle-ready at all times. Its strength lies in the cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh  who can be deployed anywhere any time.

The BJP commands far more resources than the Congress. It is known to have used the services of several thousand paid workers in its successful campaign to seize power in the eastern state of Tripura, which was ruled by the cadre-based Communist Party of India (Marxist) continuously for a quarter century.

To take on the BJP the Congress needs to strengthen its organisational base.  When the party split in 1969, Indira Gandhi attracted a majority of the party’s rank and file, but in most states the organisation remained in the hands of leaders ranged against her.

Instead of building a new organisational network, she worked with handpicked state leaders, who derived strength from their proximity to her, and not from popular support.  Her successors also failed to remedy the organisational weakness.

Over the years, the Congress’s base shrank as parties which articulated identity politics weaned away different caste and religious groups. While the BJP devised suitable strategies and overcame their challenge in the Hindi belt the Congress is yet to address the issue.  

Today the Congress party’s main weakness is the lack of a coherent ideology. It has gone as far as it could by cashing in on the goodwill it enjoyed as the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Clueless on the issue of ideology, the party’s old guard is seeking to mollify communally conditioned Hindus. Last week, Rajasthan’s Congress government registered a case against the sons of Pehlu Khan, who was lynched to death by a Hindutva mob two years ago, for cattle lifting. Anand Sharma, Deputy Leader of the Congress party in the Rajya Sabha, has said that the party lost the elections because of the surge of nationalist sentiments.

Rahul Gandhi had survived the early Hindutva onslaught in the social media and emerged as Modi’s most powerful challenger before the Lok Sabha polls. The big mistake he made was to give the party’s old guard a big say in determining the poll strategy in the Hindi belt.

The soft Hindutva line which the old guard is pushing betrays ideological pauperism. If the Congress cannot stand up for secularism, it has no reason to exist. The battle for secularism has to be fought not in the social media but where lynch mobs are on a rampage.  So far Congressmen have not reached out to the victims even in states where their party is in power.

The Congress must learn some lessons from its own history.  During the bloody days of the Partition riots Nehru kept the communal forces at bay not by pandering to majoritarian sentiments but by taking them head-on.

“Success often goes to those who dare and act,” Nehru said. “It seldom goes to the timid.” These words which inspired earlier generations are still relevant.