24 May 2024 06:04 AM



It Can Get Worse for the Congress

The Dynasty: Not much to smile about

NEW DELHI: The Congress party’s worst mistake would be to assume that it has bottomed out by scoring zero in the Delhi elections, and that now it can only move up. And, all that requires to be done by partymen is to decide whether they should be (mis)led by Sonia, Rahul or Priyanka.

Although AAP has decimated the Congress in Delhi, the Congress party can destroy itself further and beyond Delhi, beginning with Bihar, which is the next battleground. The other option is for the party to think, and think hard, how to keep itself relevant and plot carefully every step for re-inventing itself. Otherwise, it faces certain oblivion.

The Congress party’s extinction would be welcome but for the fact of the national mainstream political space being occupied not by progressive players like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) but obscurantist forces like the BJP, which is pushed by outfits such as the VHP, to take India back to a dark past pre-dating modern democracy.

In fact, the Congress can make itself useful for the rise and success of new forces such as AAP by joining battle against the BJP, and not becoming a poor Hindutva retread of the BJP. A first step in this direction, as an immediate response to the Delhi election outcome, would be to position itself as the principal, but constructive, opposition to the AAP. It could play the kind of role the Left played in the first three years of UPA-1 where it was a de facto ally and de jure opposition. In the process, the BJP was denied the space and role of the opposition and the Left agained full play as conductor and critic of the UPA-1’s policies and programmes.

The Congress, since it is even more inconsequential than the Left in terms of its influence on public discourse, should not fight shy of striving to raise people’s issues and holding the AAP to deliver on its promises. In short, the Congress can be to the AAP government what the NGOs and Left were to UPA-1. Thereby, it would also engage the BJP, which is its national opponent, and let the AAP government get on with implementing its agenda. Should the Congress fight shy of this “little” role, the BJP would be the bigger noise-maker in Delhi and the Congress would recede further from the public mind and memory.

Although the Congress was down and certain to be out, it was beset by more intra-party rivalry than the BJP. One way to end intra-party conflict would be to retire the family, especially Sonia Gandhi, and her retainers such as Ahmed Patel, Digvijaya Singh and Janardhan Dwivedi. Right now this Old Guard is obsessed with thwarting Rahul Gandhi, not because he is effete or worse, but because that is the only way this group can retain some hold on the party and that, too, through Sonia Gandhi. It is as part of the games against Rahul that the Old Guard is orchestrating the demand for Priyanka Gandhi to be brought centre-stage. Priyanka, whose husband is her biggest political liability, is not unaware that once the Old Guard renders Rahul ineffective, they would try to make a puppet of her or sideline her also. In short, such preoccupations and games with family members would be the party’s sole pastime. Therefore, retiring the family from the leadership is essential for igniting the party with a mission to revive itself through a series of vigorous actions that make partymen sweat.

Once the party is no longer family property, there might be renewed interest in its survival and activities beginning with organisational elections, membership drive, identification of issues, identifying with the poor, making its presence across the country more visible and more actively felt, and promoting new faces that are representative of the crying need for new politics of the kind symbolised by the AAP.

The regional parties from the DMK, AIADMK and Telugu Desam to the Samajwadi Party, the RJD and the JD(U), which gave rise to hope of decentralising power, have degenerated to a point where they are a bigger threat to democratic rights in their respective regions -- and more repressive of people’s movements and aspirations -- than the Congress and the BJP. These regional leaders function like tribal chieftains, treating their parties as personal fiefdoms.

In the event, the time is ripe for genuine alternatives even if they are experimental and error-prone initiatives of the kind represented by the AAP. There are many aspects of Indian democracy in dire need of renewal, and the urge for such renewal, manifest in the massive vote for change, may be said to have contributed to the AAP’s phenomenal success.

The AAP’s rise, as much as Modi’s, signals that people want change. The AAP’s rise, more than Modi’s, signifies that the forgotten and marginalised especially the urban poor, to whom South Asian cities are unrelentingly hostile, are in desperate need of rallying points for survival. Having over-extended itself in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the AAP would limit itself to Delhi and take cautious steps forward, for example in the Punjab assembly elections due in 2017. That would mean a huge democratic deficit, a vast space for parties driven by new politics and a new agenda aimed at empowering new constituencies.

In this situation, if the Congress does not shape and sharpen itself to emerge as an instrument of public usefulness, then the party doesn’t even deserve the expensive burial it extracts in every election.