Congress a bleakhouse

Kapil Sibbal pushes for CWC elections again, says party not people’s choice anymore and needs actionable revival plan

The problem with the Congress is that anybody with a prescriptive formula to revive it is usually considered a rebel than a well-meaning loyalist or dismissed as a defector, usually to the other national party. It matters little that in the process of losing some of its best men and women, it is slowly losing its relevance as a national party, and now even as a regional party, trailing at third and fourth positions. In fact, if the status quo continues, then the BJP would be the only national party in the country and the Congress would be left with a rump of its own making. Yet the leadership is unmoved as it suffers debacle after debacle in each election with no attempt to even discuss the real state of affairs except finding a scapegoat or traitor to the cause. The last particularly applies to ambitious young leaders who want legacy over oblivion. And considering the way 23 of the party’s senior loyalists were sidelined in August for writing a “dissent letter” and pleading for inner-party democracy, the party’s first family, the Gandhis, have decided that their gatekeeping writ, that is no longer earned but rests solely on history, will not be challenged even if the party hurtles down the road to perdition. Still one of the letter writers, Kapil Sibal, has again renewed calls to rescue the moribund party after its dismal performance in the Bihar Assembly elections. The Congress managed to win only 19 of the 70 seats it contested and given its poor rate of conversion despite an anti-incumbency wave, prevented its alliance partner, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), from forming the Government. The RJD went on to become the single-largest party, winning 75 seats despite losing Nitish Kumar to the BJP, being certainly less-resourced than the national party and the belated takeoff by a hastily-schooled Tejashwi Yadav. RJD leaders are already complaining about the Congress being the weakest link, not even managing to swerve the upper castes or Dalits, the latter’s traditional votebank, in its favour. They even blame its half-heartedness for the rout. And the Congress is predictably making excuses that the 70 seats were not exactly its strongholds instead of calling a spade a spade. Why didn’t it go for fewer seats that it could manage? But Sibal has stuck his neck out and said that people everywhere, not just in Bihar, “obviously don’t consider the Congress to be an effective alternative.” He said that the party had even lost the opportunity to introspect as “the writing is on the wall” after it lost all the byelections in Gujarat and got less than two per cent of the votes in some seats in Uttar Pradesh. He tossed the chaos back to the leadership, saying it has the answers but was just not willing to listen. And he argued for basic reform — transforming the Congress Working Committee (CWC) from a nominated panel of entitled peerage to an elected, representative one that would keep the grassroots worker invested in the party. 

But the Gandhis, fearing their irrelevance, would rather revel in their fading aura than prop up organisational builders or give them a seat at the high table. Sibal is the only one of the original letter writers to have revived the fighting spirit ever since party president Sonia Gandhi neutralised them with sycophants. While this may have served the dynastic cause, what Sonia doesn’t realise is that the Congress worker, in a politically empowered India, sees no potential in the leadership of her children but would certainly like to rebuild the party. The voter has already rejected the Gandhi scions, so no magic can be worked there through activism and padayatras. Through their letter, the leaders had only suggested ways and means of reviving the Congress, that too by staying within the provisions and democratic processes already laid down in the party’s constitution.  The Congress last held CWC elections in1998 and understandably this is the reason for the turmoil and impatience as worthy leaders have no say whatsoever. They are cut off by a sedimentary layer of courtiers, who are interested in simply playing along as long as their posts are secure. There’s no doubt that the central leadership has had little role to play in States where the party is in power or is an alliance partner. That success purely goes to the solidity of State leaders like Capt Amarinder Singh, who have been fairly autonomous in their ways and cannot be ignored. Those who left the party because they were stifled have proved their credentials, like Jyotiraditya Scindia did in the Madhya Pradesh bypolls, helping the BJP pick up more than a fair share of seats. If the Congress wants to stick around, this is its last chance to self-correct, rise above ego, value honest counsel and appear selfless in the interest of a larger political legacy. Unless its leadership just wants to exist on the political map, like most Independents do, without really caring for growing roots and branches. Already its prospective allies in the Bengal and Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, the Left and the DMK, are a worried lot about its vote-cutting rather than vote-harvesting capacity. Particularly in Bengal, it would end up being spoiler, assuming it does perform, or boost the BJP’s polarisation agenda. And if Rahul Gandhi is again foisted as party president come January, then dynastic stubbornness would cost the party dear. For there’s no guarantee that the rank and file would unanimously elect him as one.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020 | Pioneer

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