“He is, and will remain my leader, our leader and will continue to provide solid strength for the Congress," proclaimed Ahmed Patel about Rahul Gandhi being his leader. Patel who hails from Gujarat has been a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1999 and was appointed as the Treasurer by then the Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Ahmed Patel's statement assumes significance as he is supposed to be one of the many key mentors of Rahul Gandhi, chosen personally by Sonia Gandhi the then President of Congress to whom he served as political secretary.
Salman Khurshid who headed ministries like External Affairs, Law and Justice and Minority Affairs in the erstwhile Congress Governments declared, “Rahul Gandhi has left the office of party president but he does not cease to be our leader. Sonia Gandhi is not president anymore but she remains our leader. By way of natural standing they will continue to have admiration, affection, the confidence of party workers in them".
Ashok Gehlot, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan is reported to have tweeted "Very hopeful that soon Rahul will return to lead the party forward, to a new and robust future." Gehlot himself is not sure of the survival of his government in Rajasthan amidst the sheep stealing and also beeline that elected Members of the Assemblies and the Parliament are making for being in power and holding on to power. He himself is hoping that it is by the Gandhi family that his survival as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan can be ensured only when someone from Gandhi family is at the helm of affairs since he has exhibited his loyalty to this family and not to the party for the last 30 years or so.
Among the much political behaviour that the 2019 election results have exhibited, one that is very strongly demonstrated is sycophancy. Cutting across party lines, almost all the political parties of India have exhibited a strong sense of sycophant behaviour.
Sycophancy has been part of the Congress Party for a long time. What is more intriguing is that many members from the Congress Party are hobnobbing with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to ‘ditch’ the Congress to join the BJP for being in power and becoming ‘powerful’. But sycophancy is not limited to the Congress Party alone. It is a pan-Indian and all-party phenomenon.
Even the Bharatiya Janata Party which has been severely criticizing the Congress Party for its sycophancy and cronyism on the one hand and ‘one family rule’ on the other hand, is not untouched by this reality. Shivraj Singh Chauhan the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 2016 said about Narendra Modi in a meeting amid cheers from the audience, “He is a man of ideas and has the strong will to execute them. Wherever in the world he goes, people chant Modi! Modi! He is the God’s divine gift to India. He will make India ‘vishwa guru’ by 2022.”
Some called Modi, the ‘Shehenshah’, that is, the emperor. Some went even a step further and termed him, “God’s divine gift to India", thus making Modi more than his life size and perfect. From being a chaiwala (tea seller) to chowkidar (security guard), Modi has become “the India” for his party men. If Modi loses the next election then he would be reduced to nothingness. This is what sycophancy does to leaders.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party is basking on the electoral victory, let us examine the routed Congress Party and see if sycophancy will rule the roost as before or the party will search not for a leader but leadership will be given a last chance in the party. Political scientists argue that t he study of leadership is not only a search for understanding the thoughts and actions of leaders, but also an investigation into how to improve the performance and motivation of both the leaders and the led.
Behavioural science instead of focusing on "What is leadership?" tries to understand how organizations work efficiently, how managers can improve workers’ performance, how teamwork and commitment can be instilled, and how an environment conducive to change can be structured. From the points of political analysis, the questions today asked are what is the nature and function of every party, what is the nature and function of leaders, what is the nature and function of the party members, how do cadres and leaders work together, and what are the possibilities of change in the structure and functions of the party at various levels, etc.
Bernard M. Bass in his work, Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research and Managerial Applications states, “ Leadership appears to be a working relationship among members in a group, in which the leader acquires status through active participation and demonstration of his or her capacity to carry cooperative tasks to completion". From this definition it is clear that it is not due to ascribed qualities that one’s leadership capacities are evaluated but by the abilities to carry out the task entrusted to the person by the organisation. The Department of the Army of US in 1999 described leadership in a more comprehensive manner. "Leadership is influencing people — by providing purpose, direction and motivation — while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization."
From this discussion what emerges is that leadership is an integral quality of an organisation which influences the led by opening up before them the objectives and direction of the organisation and motivating them to work together to achieve the goals of the organisation. Moving from this discussion to analyse the state of the defeated Congress Party, it can be stated that the party at present is going through a crisis of leadership. But the sycophants of the party are projecting the crisis to that of the lack of leader and that too specifically Rahul Gandhi not leading the party in total disregard to a democratic form of party governance. The chorus to get Rahul Gandhi to continue as the party president is once again the demand of those who in Rahul Gandhi or in Gandhi family see their political future. But they are fundamentally failing to see that the country has changed, political agenda has changed, not only the political language has changed but also electoral language has changed, voters have changed, aspirations of the youth have changed, identity politics of the Dalits, Tribals, minorities and women have changed, aspirations of common masses of India have changed for a better life. In this sea of changes former slogans related to caste, corruption, communalism and country have also been fundamentally altered. It is this changed scenario that most of the old guards of the Congress Party fail to see, understand, accept and change their own language, idiom, message, method etc.
It is undeniable, that several Congress leaders feel the time has come for the party to take stock of the post-election scenario keeping the pre-election India from the time, Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Those who have been following the progress of the country from 2014 to the run up to election in May 2019 would take into account many internal and external factors for the dominant parties and the country. Hence, they would not reward Rahul for every failure. It is not just the policies and programs of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and the RSS, the public utterances of these and their various spokespersons that won the election for the BJP RSS combine. But as argued elsewhere it is money power, muscle power, machine power and above all mind power of Modi and Shah which led to unprecedented victory to the BJP. Those Congress leaders who understand this changed scenario understand that the defeat of the Congress is not a passing phenomenon but a present and future reality if the Congress is not willing to change itself fundamentally and structurally.
The Congress Party instead of holding to the apron of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka for its survival has to seriously look for a collective, communicating, committed and cooperative leadership. In this regard what Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said should guide the course of the party for its resurrection and restructuring. “Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards our fellow men.”
To realise this the party has to attempt the following: go beyond Nehru, Indira and Rajiv and include Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Gandhi, Frontier Gandhi, Ambedkar, Patel, Periyar, J.P. Narayanan, Madhu Limey, etc.; tender unconditional apology to the Dalits, Tribals, minorities and women for treating them as vote bank; apologise to the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians who were subjected to its communal violence like the 1984 riot against the Sikhs; allow the emergence and operation of local, district, state level leadership and not control through the so-called high command; issue show cause notice and take action on mudslinging and muscle wielding leaders; permit inner party democracy; instil in every member self-esteem and self-respect than developing cronyism and sycophancy; recognise and build local cadres and link them with grassroots; prepare seriously and systematically for not the upcoming state election but for the next general election.
The final measuring rod for the survival of the Congress Party would be to pay heed to what Dr. Ambedkar said about progress. “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”. Even before demanding 33% reservation in the assembly and the parliament, the Congress Party should evolve a consensus within the party to provide 50% of representation for women in all levels of leadership. Finally, for the survival of their own political future and not so much for the survival of the Congress Party, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka concentrate on cadre building and leadership formation than taking up leadership of the Congress Party. If these options are not searched, then sycophancy will once again take over and search for leadership will not be in the agenda of the party leading to its oblivion from the Indian political scenario for ever. Will the Congress Party and the Gandhi family rise up to this historical and political demand only time will tell us. But for now, the country is watching with hope that a viable opposition would be provided by the Congress Party to uphold the democratic principles of this country.
(Published on 15th July 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 29)