SEEMA MUSTAFA | 28 MAY, 2019
Purge the Congress
Congress President Rahul Gandhi is seriously wanting to step down from the top party post. And wants his colleagues to put their money where their mouth is and bring in a consensus candidate in his place. He will focus on Parliament, and after giving the election all that he has got, has like most in the fray who have received a drubbing at the hands of the people is dejected and a little hopelessness perhaps.
While all this is understandable, it is also true that in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections Rahul Gandhi did come into his own. Whether the focus on chowkidar and Rafale was right or wrong, the Congress President exuded confidence, toured extensively, and presented a foil to Prime Minister Narendra Modi both in personality and rhetoric. The mistake was really made early on, when he allowed himself to be drawn into a Presidential form of election, quite forgetting that India is a Parliamentary democracy. And that the Bharatiya Janata Party under Modi had taken enormous strides here, with a face to face battle as it became leaving Rahul Gandhi decisively short in the peoples reckoning.
However, at the same time he has made significant stries in the field that is not reflected in the polarised election just fought. He has a good following in the south amongst women and the young children, and after a long while has been recognised in the north as well as a leader who can lead. Of course here the propaganda against him has stuck to some extent, largely because of the strong machinery of the ruling dispensation but also because of leaders within his own party.
Secondly, he is the only leader today in the Opposition with a pan India image and a certain acceptability. He has to build on this, and use the positioning to his advantage. If he moves out, not only will the Congress disappear but so will the regional organisations that can work with him but not with perhaps another leader from within. The names that come to mind do not inspire confidence, and a new leadership is missing in all political parties today. So that question does not arise.
Three, he has taken time but has built relations within sections of the Congress and the regional organisations. He can take these forward with thought and vision, instead of moving out and closing a window that needs to remain open. He has shown courage and determination, both important qualities in a leader. He has to match it with fortitude and wisdom, to be acquired through consultations, delegation of responsibility, and a broad vision.
Instead of backing off and giving in to those who want him out, he should take this defeat as an opportunity to purge the Congress of the deadwood. And there is plenty of that. And even if it is reduced to a rump, it will be well worth the while. He should then use what remains to build a solid organisation, taking a leaf out of the Amit Shah book, and targeting specific states. Start small to become big.
The Congress party has been a sort of noose around his neck, with the deadwood unable to contribute to ideas, but having sufficient say to ensure a non-productive status quo. Most of them with vested interests are not keen for the Congress president to strike out, that he did to some extent before the Assembly elections. Subsequently, they were able to prevail through other members of the Family to go back to the straight and narrow, that worked to
one, ensure there was no pre-poll coalition;
two, Rahul Gandhi in presidential elections style was pitted against Modi in an unequal battle;
and three, the regional parties became the rival and the enemy in real terms on the ground, over and above the BJP (SP, BSP, TMC, BJD, AAP to name some)
There is no other political party today left in a position to lead. Regardless of who wins or loses, parliamentary democracy cannot survive without a vibrant, watchful Opposition. The media and other institutions of democracy are under the control of the ruling dispensation. Only the Opposition, being outside this all pervasive control, can revive and work out a new progressive strategy to survive.
If Rahul Gandhi leaves the Congress that now alone can take some kind of a lead, will also dissolve under factionalism leaving the important space in Indian democracy empty. Even now, after this rout, the Opposition has 200 MPs in the Lok Sabha but they need to be accommodated, reasoned with, nurtured and caressed. That, whether the Congress likes it or not, is the way of the smaller political parties -- egos that need handling.
Alongside Rahul Gandhi should build a charter, new and dynamic that does not follow a religious a path but sticks every facet and aspect of the Constitution of India. And hence, a bold and aggressive counter narrative. And for this he needs to rope in the regional allies and with them build an inclusive and widely representative platform of politicians, scholars, activists, professionals who do not meet once a day but become a cohesive team to take the agenda forward.
Can he? Yes he can, provided he is allowed to follow his instincts and strike out. All this is very doable, with a responsive and cutting edge organisation and a sharp, undeterred political will. Having followed the Nehru-Gandhi family closely post Emergency, Rahul Gandhi today stands taller than other members of his close family, in terms of personality and courage. He has finally acquired a lead over Priyanka Gandhi in public perception, and is seen now as the leader of the Congress party. Unchallenged.