Ironically, a good show by Congress in Punjab may harm the party in the long run because a satisfactory performance will further strengthen the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s grip on the organisation. The stranglehold will preclude any infusion in the foreseeable future of fresh blood at the top with new ideas and greater proximity to the grassroots level.
The chief beneficiary of this boost to the debilitating feudal propensity will be Rahul Gandhi, perhaps leading to his elevation at long last to the party president’s post. Till now, his mother and her band of courtiers were evidently hesitating to anoint the crown prince formally because of the lingering doubts about his capabilities. It does not take much wisdom to discern the glaring deficiencies in the heir apparent’s persona.
For a start, his speeches lack substance because he does not seem to have either an economic or a political vision. In all the years that Rahul has been in public life, he hasn’t clarified what he stands for – whether for his mother’s populism or Manmohan Singh’s pro-market reforms. If his jibes at Narendra Modi’s suit-boot ki sarkar are taken at face value, he still favours Nehruvian socialism although the Congress is supposed to have said goodbye to the concept in 1991. If the Congress hasn’t done so, the country certainly has, as Narendra Modi’s successful espousal of the development mantra shows.
Besides, the focus of nearly all state governments, including the non-BJP ones, is on economic growth via foreign investment and not on doling out freebies and subsidised food as the Congress prefers.
Rahul has also been silent on the quota vs merit debate or on banning controversial books and films or on the questions of civil liberties such as capital punishment or the archaic laws on homosexuality. His avoidance of these and other substantive issues, including foreign policy, is compounded by his occasional trips abroad, suggesting that he is still a part-timer in politics.
Apart from Rahul’s personal inadequacies, it is no secret to the rest of the country that the Congress’s first family has become more of a liability than an asset in the absence of inspirational leaders like Indira (before the Emergency) and Rajiv Gandhi (in his first few years as Prime Minister), let alone Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet, the culture of sycophancy has taken such deep roots in the party that most Congressmen appear to feel that the organisation will fall apart if a member of the dynasty is not at the helm.
There is little doubt that in the event of a Congress victory in Punjab, the penchant for subservience will get a fillip with the party men ascribing the success to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul. Outside the Congress, however, few will have any doubt that the principal architect of a good showing is the party’s chief in Punjab, Amarinder Singh, and that, too, as a beneficiary of the strong anti-incumbency sentiments against the Parkash Singh Badal government.
It is the purposeful emasculation of promising leaders in the states which have been in evidence since Indira Gandhi’s time which has hampered the Congress’s prospects. The fear of being challenged by the influential regional satraps which motivated Indira still seemingly haunts her daughter-in-law, especially now when the party is on a downward slope at the national level, and the Dauphin has failed to emerge as a mature leader to whom the party and the people can look up to.
The Congress’s refusal, however, to let the state leaders live up to their potential led to the formation of parties like the Trinamool Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, and the YSR Congress. Realising how the party has suffered as a result of the exodus of former Congress leaders, Digvijay Singh, a senior general secretary, called for the return of Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar, among others, to the mother organisation. But his was a cry in the wilderness because such a ghar wapsi was unlikely to happen as long as the dynasty maintained its suffocating grip on the Congress.
None of the leaders who have been able successfully to carve out a political space for themselves by dint of their own merit will be willing to return to their original party and kowtow to the Dowager Empress and her favourite son. The return of a few whose breakaway outfits hadn’t succeeded might have been possible if the Congress was seen to be going from strength to strength at the national level. But there is little likelihood of such a turn of events shortly.
The Congress may win a few elections in the states as a result of the failures in governance of its opponents. But for the party to raise its tally of Lok Sabha seats from the present 45 to three figures will be virtually impossible unless repeated failures to re-enter the corridors of power in Delhi convince the dynasty that it is time to walk into the sunset.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)