The Congress needs to conduct inner party elections and get a president though it has saved Rajasthan
If indeed Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, who met rebel Congress leader Sachin Pilot, have worked out a rapprochement in the troubled Rajasthan Congress, then it is their first decisive move, indicating a generational shift. Their efforts have at least built a tenuous bridge between the old guard and the younger breed. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot climbed down, as he was told sternly that Pilot needs to be reinstated and given space. This is a high stake game for Rahul if he sees himself as reclaiming the Congress fortunes with his peers, who are getting disgruntled, impatient and sometimes even impervious to the need for accommodating experience. But then he has to play the part proactively and wisely, not from the shadows as mother Sonia Gandhi will continue to remain interim president for a little longer. He has to have a strategy, rather than running a lone warrior race on social media. Sure the seniors have fattened up their turfs and positions while letting the Gandhis take the credit or blame publicly as the case may have been, but in securing their interests, they have respectively developed the party’s matrix creditably and have a depth of experience in political manoeuvering. But they are status quoist, preferring continuity into their sunset years in ways that they understand, choosing fiefdoms over the larger national revival of the party. The fact is the Congress has lost the hunger to be a national alternative in the changed political template of the times that is disruptive, dynamic, performance-driven, result-oriented and avowedly authoritarian. The party looks rudderless and hopeless in comparison. The younger breed, Rahul included, now want to leave their mark, and reclaim some respectability for the party and as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot have shown, can live down their entitlements, work the ground and deliver results. Ambition is not a bad thing and maybe the propeller the Congress needs, provided it creates a margdarshak-like structure for the old hawks the way BJP has. Besides, the elders forget that they were mavericks once and should let the fresh winds blow in, failed as they have in arresting the party’s erosion.
But as mentioned before, the party first needs a strategy. And must speak in a united voice. To give the elders their due, they are right in suggesting that Rahul stop the personal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is understandable why Rahul, the nation’s butt of ridicule courtesy the BJP’s online army, and the recipient of digs about his family legacy, is tempted to make it personal. But he is ending up making Modi look like a victim of dynastic snobbery, something that cost the Congress the Lok Sabha election last year. Despite India’s unwieldy pandemic and the mishandling of the Chinese incursion in Ladakh, Modi’s personality cult remains unaffected. Attacking him is proving counter-productive for Rahul. The Congress needs to work on issue-based campaigns at a pan-India level, be it of economic slowdown, joblessness or the youth. Only when issues are made bigger than the personality will the Congress be able to force a serious discourse beyond the muscularity of Modi or the triumphalism of religiosity. Let’s face it, Rahul cannot win a personality war but can present a cogent alternative plan that may yet find takers. Instead of interviewing experts and luminaries, he should get their inputs to prepare this agenda. Besides, while team Rahul is brimming with ideas, they are not tested in the crucible of the political laboratory and they would need seniors in scripting party responses rather than running down past UPA Governments. Rahul should at least insist upon a disciplined public posturing. While he did try to appear responsible and principled by withdrawing from public life after the Lok Sabha rout, the fact is this move made him look like an escapist. If the high command thought this would lead to a yearning among partymen to get him back, that’s not the case. Perceiving the party as a rudderless ship, many grassroots workers and members have just migrated to other parties, be it the BJP or federal outfits, to barter their worth. If he was really keen on a rebuild, he should have stuck through the worst. Something that sister Priyanka at least attempted in Uttar Pradesh. Most importantly, if he really wants to be a reformist and take everybody along, he should usher in democracy within by calling for the Congress Working Committee elections at the earliest. There should be a permanent president and not a stopgap one as MP Shashi Tharoor has indicated. Rahul’s problem is that he knows that the chair is his; every Congressman would acquiesce to Sonia’s wishes on this matter, even his peers. That probably fuels his complacency or stubbornness, depending on which side of the prism you want to look from. But the Bihar and the Assembly elections aren’t too far away. So the Congress needs campaign planks than ego wars. And Rahul must engage with other federal front leaders on his own steam than leave that to his mother. The Congress has already frittered away too much time and talk. Now it is action or perish. And the baba log, too, are greying.
Tuesday, 11 August 2020 | Pioneer
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