The Congress needs to look at the present crisis as an opportunity to change itself to modern-day needs. A new strategy must include infusion of dynamic second-rung and strong State-level leaders. It must be a blend of experience and youth
The Congress is going through an existential crisis even as party chief Rahul Gandhi has been authorised to restructure the organisation at all levels last week. Indeed, the party needs such ruthless surgery. Gandhi offered to resign taking 100 per cent responsibility for the defeat in 2019 polls but during a Congress Working Committee meeting, party leaders asked Rahul to stay.
There can be no doubt that the Congress has barely managed to improve its tally from its all-time low of 44 seats in 2014 — it has now won 52 seats but the buck stops with Rahul Gandhi as party chief. It is the media, which has been demanding Rahul Gandhi’s ouster but the question is: Is Rahul Gandhi the only problem the Congress is facing now? No. The problem lies elsewhere. The Congress is facing a combination of issues, including a leadership crisis. The last time it faced a similar situation was when there was erosion under the leadership of Sitaram Kesri in 1998. That time, Sonia Gandhi stepped in and arrested the erosion. Now, the lack of a thriving organisation, proper vision for the future and failure to project itself as a credible alternative to the BJP and disconnect with the voters are the real problems. The Congress also could not lead the Opposition to challenge the Modi juggernaut.
Perhaps, the failure of Rahul is that he did not choose the right people for the right job as he collected around himself non-political leaders who had no electoral understanding or experience. He seemed a confused lot as he could not spell out the present Congress ideology or its message. The NYAY scheme, too, was announced late and it could not percolate down. The Congress scion did not have any electoral strategy to match the BJP’s excellent campaign. Rafale and chowkidar chor hai slogans were just not enough. Moreover, there were only two star campaigners — Rahul and Priyanka. Senior leaders were not utilised in the campaign. Even bringing Priyanka into politics was a decision too late. Also, the party did not build on second-rung leaders. How could the party win the elections when it did not have booth-level workers or foot soldiers who could carry the party’s message to the people?
The Congress may not dump the Gandhi family as it has no other leader on whom the party can repose trust. The party will not allow Rahul Gandhi to quit even if he persists and will go through the same drama after Sonia Gandhi resigned in 1999 when leaders like Sharad Pawar questioned her foreign origin. When Sitaram Kesri was expelled in 1998, Sonia Gandhi was ready and waiting. Today, most senior leaders in the Congress are too old while most junior leaders have lost the recent Lok Sabha polls. So who could steer the party when its morale is so low? As a temporary reprieve, it will try to find a buffer between Rahul and the party and might go for a working president to share Rahul’s work. This has been its formula all along when leadership comes under attack.
There is no doubt that the Congress should reinvent itself if it wants to survive. Perhaps, it can take a leaf out of the former Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had coined the word “new labour” in October 1994 conference speech as part of the slogan “New Labour, New Britain” before the party came to power. The new Congress should take into account the changing scenario in the country and study what the new voters and aspirational youth want instead of harping on its past glory.
The Congress has reinvented itself earlier, too. Indira Gandhi showed them the way in 1969 when the party split and again in 1977 when she launched the Congress (I). Rajiv Gandhi spoke of the power brokers in the 1985 AICC session and tried to change the party. PV Narasimha Rao’s Congress moved towards the Right-wing with reforms while Sonia Gandhi brought it back to Left-wing welfare politics. Rahul’s failure is that he was not able to sell his political or economic vision to the public.
There is still time to implement the much-needed facelift, which can be decided after a Pachmarhi or Shimla kind of brainstorming session. The new strategy should include infusion of dynamic second-rung leaders and strong State-level leaders. It must be a blend of experience and youth. The party should re-establish connect with the public.
Even at this stage, all is not lost in the half-a-dozen States and the party can hope to win some more in the upcoming Assembly elections in the next five years. If it decides to change itself ruthlessly with the single aim of electoral gains, it should begin now. It needs to look at the present crisis as an opportunity to change itself to modern-day needs. Change is the only constant thing and the party should realise this.
(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)
Writer: Kalyani Shankar
Courtesy: The Pioneer