Congress needs to put its house in order - GulfToday

Congress needs to put its house in order

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

Rahul Gandhi

Two years after Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru family, resigned as Congress President, owning up moral responsibility for the party’s dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a second term with an improved majority, the grand old party is still headless pending the election of his successor, his ailing mother Sonia Gandhi is holding the fort as interim President.

Organisational elections were scheduled thrice but postponed citing various reasons.

 In the recent Assembly elections in four states and one Union Territory, the party fared poorly again except in Tamil Nadu where it was a junior partner of the victorious Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. In West Bengal, where the Congress was in alliance with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), both drew a blank as there was a polarisation of voters between the ruling Trinamool Congress and challenger Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Assembly election results showed that the Congress is continuing to decline. But its leaders are not able to act with a sense of urgency.

The Congress was not among the parties whose leaders were invited by Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar for talks on coming together to take on Modi and the BP-led National Democratic Alliance.

This does not necessarily mean Pawar is thinking in terms of a ‘non-BJP, non-Congress front’. But it does mean the Congress may miss the bus if it does not quickly find a leader or project a collective leadership capable of giving it a sense of direction.

The party’s current situation throws up one question: is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty the problem or the solution?

Many critics believe the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had plotted for dynastic succession. Facts on record do not support their belief.

After an impressive victory in the 1952 general elections, Nehru had written to Quit India movement hero and Socialist Party leader Jayaprakash Narayan suggesting that their parties work together. JP, as he was known, was at that time the most popular leader of his generation. Had he joined the government then, he would have emerged as Nehru’s logical successor.

In 1958 Nehru did acquiesce in the demand by a group of party leaders for Indira Gandhi’s election as Congress President. However, he did not give her any party or government assignment after that.

In 1964, after suffering a stroke, Nehru inducted Lal Bahadur Shastri into the Cabinet as Minister without portfolio to reduce his workload. This was seen as an indication that he would like Shastri to succeed him. It helped Shastri considerably in the contest with Morarji Desai for leadership of the parliamentary party after Nehru’s death.

When Shastri died suddenly in 1966, general elections were only a year away. The party bosses picked Indira Gandhi as parliamentary party leader as they reckoned Nehru’s daughter would be a better vote-catcher than Desai.

Indira Gandhi set the stage for dynastic succession. She delegated power to her younger son, Sanjay, who held no position in the party or government.  On Sanjay’s death in an air accident, she brought her other son, Rajiv, into the party leadership. Her loyal followers accepted him as heir apparent.

On her assassination, President Zail Singh swore Rajiv Gandhi in as the Prime Minister without even waiting for the party to go through the necessary formalities.

When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated mid-way through a general election, the family had no candidate to offer for the posts of Prime Minister or party President. The dynastic line that snapped at that time was restored seven years later when Rajiv’s wife, Sonia Gandhi, was elected Congress President. The family had not sought the post. The party, which was out of power and facing threat of disintegration, had sought her service to hold it together.  

She remained party President continuously for 18 years.

When the Congress party appeared to be in a position to stake a claim to form the government, the BJP raised the issue of her Italian origin and Catholic past though, being a naturalised Indian citizen, there is no constitutional bar on her holding any post. When the time came for the party to head the government again, she chose Manmohan Singh for the post of Prime Minister.

As Rahul Gandhi was preparing to take over party leadership, the BJP’s cyber gangs launched a vicious campaign portraying him as a nitwit. He survived it and became party President in 2016.

He set a good example by assuming moral responsibility for the 2019 debacle. The party failed to follow it up with a proper analysis of the causes that led to it.

A major weakness of the Congress is the lack of a functioning organisational machinery in most states. In the 1969 split the state bosses got the party apparatus but the bulk of the party workers lined up behind Indira Gandhi. Instead of rebuilding the organisation she started working with nominated leaders at the state level.

Last year, 23 senior leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, the party’s leader in the Rajya Sabha, wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi voicing dissatisfaction with the party’s functioning and demanding a full-time President.

The family did not take kindly to the move. When Azad’s Rajya Sabha term expired he was not renominated.  

The family too is committed, in principle, to organisational elections. It should, therefore, engage with the dissenters and sort out the issues holding up the elections.  

When the Working Committee met after his resignation to make alternative arrangements, Rahul Gandhi suggested that someone from outside the family should head the party. But it chose his mother. It would not have been easy to reach a consensus on someone else.

At the plenary session held in 2010 the Congress had raised the party chief’s tenure from three years to five years.

The party constitution provides for elected committees at all levels. But there is no properly elected body at any level. Clearly inner party democracy is alien to the Congress. All Gandhis from Indira to Rahul and all dissenters have contributed to the party’s current plight through acts of commission or omission. Leaders at all levels must now make a determined effort to rescue the party.

The issue that calls for immediate resolution is not who must be the Congress President but what must be the party’s policy.

Along with organisational weakness, lack of determination on the part of leaders to stand up for the constitutional principles of democracy and secularism, which are being eroded by the Modi administration, is also a reason for the party’s sharp decline. It can regain political relevance only if it is ready to fight for these core values of the Constitution.

 

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