By Harihar Swarup
Is the Indian National Congress facing existential crisis? The answer to that is,tragically, yes. A dramatic turnabout is needed because the Congress is only bulwark against authoritarian juggernaut that is the current BJP-led regime, which is dismantling institutions, polarizing society, marginalizing disadvantaged sections and destroying the core foundations of the Indian democracy itself. The recent Delhi riots are the latest manifestation of BJP’s insidious political agenda and the pernicious consequences are for all to see.
India needs a reawakened and revitalized Congress, ready to win the second freedom struggle against dark, oppressive forces. The party must do the heavy lifting. This piece is not provoked by a panic reaction to the dismal Delhi results; after all, “we surprised political pundits by posting better than expected performance in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand”, say Congress leaders. But the hard truth is that serious fault lines remain; a complex internal structure that has resulted in organizational immobility, absence of speedy response to compelling political challenges, factional in-fighting over petty issues and absence of a clear road map.
The leadership vacuum is the elephant in the room; almost two months shy of a year since Rahul Gandhi resigned as the Congress President, “we are riddled with internal inertia and have not found a permanent replacement. This has aggravated despondency across the rank and file of the party. It is time to do a bold makeover as mere synthetic tinkering will prove counter-productive. There is a silver lining; in our worst performance ever (2014), the party still generated nearly 20% of the popular vote”, say party leaders.
In the 1984 general election, Congress stood at 404 Lok Sabha seats, while aggregating the last two general elections, the party could muster only 96 seats. What is particularly intriguing is that the BJP won handsomely in 2019 despite ravaged economy, record joblessness, raging rural distress, abysmal governance, marginalizing of Dalits, brutalizing of minorities (particularly Muslims), and regulatory and media capture. If people of India still did not see an alternative in the Congress, it means the party has disconnected from ground realities. Also, a challenger party needs that critical intangible element called “hunger to win”. Frankly, that is conspicuous by its absence.
The Congress party must be a thriving internal democracy and be a model for example and be a model for exemplary meritocracy. Old fashioned forced representation model and large over-sized committees that merely please all need to be dumped. Instead there needs to be outcome-driven groups, with the motto perform or perish, think some Congress insiders.In fact, a Congress source quips: “In a lighter vein, perhaps we are taking the Grand Old Party tag, a tad too seriously; to many we appear fossilized.”
The Congress has drifted afar because the most powerful decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) which needs a continuous inflow of fresh ideas and creative energy, has been bogged down by transactional political imperatives. The serious brainstorming that must follow electoral losses has not happened.
The senior Congress leaders have suggested that there should be elections to the post of Congress President and the CWC, which must be held under an independent non-partisan body of eminent citizens to ensure a foolproof process; sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant. And, this must happen within the next three to six months. Second, the AICC needs an organizational restructuring and greater decentralization; the Congress must consider appointment of four regional vice-presidents to cover 28 states and Union territories of India.
Third, given the abundant talent the Congress has, the party can appoint a formal shadow cabinet to keep the government in constant check. The Congress party has outstanding talent but their collective brilliance remains untapped, the party needs a surfeit of independent state leaders. Fourth, Congress’ ability to market itself remains amateurish.
Congress’ response to BJP’s play book of majoritarian nationalism and segregationist politics has been either tepid or confused. It is astonishing that the party that has a legendary contribution to India’s historic freedom struggle and which won successive wars against Pakistan should be so inarticulate and mealy-mouthed in counter attacking BJP’s hyper-populist nationalism. Its categorical stand on CAA, NPR and NRC is a refreshing change. Ideological clarity helps.
Congress has to stop its slide forthwith before it slips into freefall. The people of India have voted for the party in ten out of 17 general elections held so far and the Congress governed for 55 of 73 years of post Independent India.
India’s destiny is inextricably inter-twined with that of the Congress party. In saving “ourselves we will have saved a country that deserves better, one which is being currently manipulated with dazzling lies and vicious propaganda”, said a senior Congress leader. A rejuvenated and resurgent Congress is the need of the hour.(IPA Service)