The resignation of 16 Congress-JDS MLAs, threatening the very existence of the Congress-JDS coalition government in Karnataka, is one of the disastrous consequences of the leadership vacuum in the Congress party. The indecision with regard to the topmost leadership of the party has increased the bickering within its state units. Its rout in the Lokh Sabha election coupled with the leadership crisis is demoralizing the party workers day by day and disappointing its supporters. All concerned people are asking how the Congress could be so slothful even when it is facing an existential crisis; how the 134 year old organization could become so moribund. It appears that the Congress is digging its own grave, paving the way for realizing the dream of BJP, a Congress mukt Bharat.
The veteran Congress leader, Dr. Karan Singh, expressed shock at the inordinate delay in solving the leadership crisis in the Congress. "As someone who joined the Congress in 1967, over half a century ago, I am aghast to see the confusion and disorientation into which the party has fallen since Rahul Gandhi resigned on May 25," Singh said in a statement on 8th July. He also added, “Instead of honouring Rahul's bold decision, a month was wasted pleading him to take back his resignation which, as a man of honour and integrity, he should not have been pressured to do”. He suggested convening the Congress Working Committee (CWC) without any delay, perhaps under the chairmanship of Dr. Manmohan Singh, and taking necessary decisions.
One of the reasons for the disastrous performance of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha election 2019 is its indecision with regard to leadership after its beating in 2014. It took about three years for the Congress to decide whether Rahul Gandhi should be the Congress president. During this period a good number of state elections took place and the BJP continued its victory march, trouncing the Congress in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Assam. The Congress miserably failed to make a sincere introspection and rebuild the party organization from the grassroots. The victory of the party in the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh was mainly due to anti-incumbency rather than the resurgence of the party. It could form governments in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh only with the support of independents and the BSP. Its governments in these two states are in great danger of being toppled by the BJP.
After its debacle in the 2019 election, Rahul Gandhi took the moral responsibility and offered to resign as party president in the CWC meeting on May 25. The party leaders thought that Rahul will take back his resignation, respecting the plea of the CWC. But Rahul was reiterating his decision, but the party leaders were unwilling to accept his decision and kept on requesting him to reconsider. Finally on July 3, he posted a detailed letter on Twitter, stating unequivocally that his decision was irreversible. In a four-page open letter, Rahul Gandhi urged the Congress Working Committee to entrust a group of people with the task of finding a new president, as it would not be proper for him to do so.
"As President of the Congress Party, I am responsible for the loss of the 2019 election. Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress President," he said, rejecting requests by the senior party leaders to continue as the chief of the party. "Rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019. It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as President of the party," Rahul Gandhi said in the letter posted on the Twitter. In his Twitter account, Gandhi's designation as "President" of Congress was also changed to "Member of Congress and Member of Parliament".
Many articles have appeared in newspapers, online newsmagazines and social media about the future course of action for the Congress. Shashi Deshpande in a hard hitting article, titled “ Dear Congress, Show Loyalty to Your Country over a Family” (in Wire on July 2, 2019), appealed to the Congress party to reinvent itself in order to become an effective opposition. She has highlighted the role it has to play in the current political scenario that appears to be dangerous. Against the backdrop of the rout of the Communist Party and the near demise of socialist parties, only the Congress has a national footprint and it is the responsibility of the Congress to play the role of a responsible and effective opposition.
If the Congress does not rebuild itself on a war footing and play the role of a dynamic opposition, it will be betraying the nation. In the absence of an effective opposition the ruling party that has brute majority in the Lok Sabha can easily become dictatorial and it can even derail democracy. The RSS-BJP has stated unequivocally that its ideology is Hindutva and it is very strategically moving towards the realization of its goal of building a Hindu Rashtra as envisaged by VD Savarkar and MS Golwalkar. In the absence of a strong opposition, conversion of India into a Hindu Rashtra can take place with ease.
Shashi Deshpande has also written what the Congress has to do in order to reinvent itself. It has to focus on the youth and women by searching for its strength and leadership among the youth. The Congress party has to make use of the talents and capacities of women and the youth in the process of rejuvenating itself. The same view is echoed in the sentiments expressed by the Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, on July 6. In his tweet he has asked for the leadership of the party to be vested with someone young. “After unfortunate decision of @RahulGandhi to quit, hope to see another dynamic youth leader as @INCIndia president to galvanise party. Urge CWC to take note of young India’s need for a young leader, aligned to aspirations of its large youth population & with grassroots connect,” tweeted Amarinder Singh.
Many young leaders of the party have expressed the need for transparency in the process of selecting the president of the party. If the old guards of the party hang on to power and make interim arrangement, thinking that the Gandhis will take over the reins of the party after a stop gap arrangement, and bring back the Congress to power, they are in a dream world. Although the Gandhi family can play a key role in rebuilding the Congress party, it seems to have lost its power to influence the voters, particularly the young ones. Rahul Gandhi has sensed this reality. That is why he is insisting on electing a leader outside the Gandhi family. The old guards of the party have to listen to him.
Along with handing over the leadership of the party to the generation next, the party has to clearly articulate its vision and ideology as a part of its reinventing. Adopting soft Hindutva, as reflected in Rahul Gandhi’s frequent visits to temples during the election season, proved to be a disaster. The Congress party has to listen to what the people of India expect from it through the words of Shashi Deshpande. “ There is no such thing as ‘soft’ Hindutva. In any case, Hindutva was never what your party believed in. Stand by your convictions – abandoning them to gain some votes will backfire. Hindutva worked for the BJP because it was always at the core of their ideology. If you wear saffron today, even if it is only a loincloth, you will lose all the credibility you have left”. The congress has to desist from both majority appeasement and minority appeasement.
The second priority of the party should be presenting an attractive programme before the people in view of responding to the challenges faced by the people. The BJP could succeed in instilling fear in the majority community by demonizing the minority community. People voted for BJP in large numbers not because it could fulfil the promises made during the 2014 election, but because of the aggressive and militant nationalism presented before them. An equally important reason was the disarray among the opposition parties and their failure to present before the people an attractive programme. The Congress has to focus on the burning issues of the people. Human development along with job creation by adopting sustainable development polices could be the focus of the Congress party. The programme also should emphasize the issues of justice and freedom that are being increasingly violated by the present regime.
The BJP had ruled Madhya Pradesh (MP) for 15 years continuously and tried to present MP model of development. The economic survey presented on 9th July in the state assembly has exposed the hollowness of this model of development. MP is 27th out 29 states in the poverty index, 24th in the health index and 23rd in education index. The Congress has to present an alternative narrative of development before the people of India.
The Congress will not be able to give a tough fight to the RSS-BJP combine, unless and until it builds up the party organization from the village level to the national level. The Sangh Parivar has more than 100 strong organizations with millions of dedicated members. If the BJP could move from 2 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984 to 303 in 2019 it is because of the well planned and well coordinated hard work of millions of dedicated members of the Sangh Parivar organizations. There is no segment of Indian society in which the Sangh Parivar does not have its organization. Without a well built party organization from grassroots to the national level with millions of dedicated cadres the Congress party cannot think of giving a decent fight to the BJP.
The visit of Rahul Gandhi to Amethi on 10th July and interacting with the party workers have sent strong signals that he is prepared to fight back. Rahul Gandhi should focus on UP to build the party organization and recapture Amethi Lok Sabha seat in the next election. He can also prepare the cadres to fight for the forthcoming assembly election in coordination with the new Congress president.
The Congress doesn’t have the luxury of wasting any more time. It has to elect a dynamic leader with an inclusive vision; rebuild the party, focusing on the youth and women and put before the people its ideology and vision in unambiguous terms with an attractive programme, addressing the vital issues of the people of India. The Gandhis have to cooperate with the new Congress president in rebuilding and rejuvenating the party without becoming alternative power centres.
(Published on 15th July 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 29)