Millennium Post

Congress looks within itself

The year 2013 began with the Congress electing Rahul Gandhi as its vice-president in Jaipur with great hopes. The year ended with the snide remarks Rahul Nahi Chala (Rahul did not click) from the senior Congressmen who feel sidelined. Manmohan Singh government is also yet another target. There is also a view that Congress president Sonia Gandhi, should take over the command once again.

Can the Congress reinvent itself to suit the present day requirements and function like a party of the 21st century rather than clinging to its past? This is being debated in the Congress circles, which is panicking after the recent rout in the state Assembly elections. The Grand Old Party has won elections and lost elections in the past. Looking back, the Congress was in a worse situation in 1998, when Sonia Gandhi took over from Sitaram Kesri. Then Sonia Gandhi tried to reinvent the Congress and was successful in brining it back to power not only in 2004 but also in 2009. She took two important decisions to bring the party to power. The first was to invoke the common man, coining the slogan Congress ke haath aam admi ke saath. The second was the 2003 Shimla conclave where she changed the ekla chalo policy of the Congress and decided to go for a coalition. She built up the UPA brick by brick. Even senior leaders like Jyoti Basu and Karunanidhi accepted her leadership. She almost ended the anti-Congressism. After all these, she declined the crown nominating Manmohan Singh as the prime minister twice.

After almost 10 years, the Congress is now facing a different challenge with the rise of regional satraps like Mayawati of the BSP, Mulayam Singh of the SP, Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Nitish Kumar of the JD(U), Jayalalithaa (AIADMK), Naveen Patnaik (BJD) and the rise of leaders like the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and the latest entrant Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party. They are trying to occupy the space vacated by the Congress by its governance deficit. After all 2014 will not be 2004 or 2009 because of these and the growing number of voters with greater aspirations.

What has gone wrong? First of all the Assembly results show that the party is totally disconnected with the public.  The organisation is weak while even the newest party AAP was able to mobilise voters. Wrong decisions like creating a separate Telengana has emboldened some Congress MPs from Seemandhra region have given a notice for no confidence motion in an unprecedented manner indicating a revolt.

Secondly, the Congress should realise that the voters are not enamored of the freebees any. The welfare measures suggested by the Sonia led national Advisory Council are not the medicines to remove poverty. People want jobs, they want reasonable standard of living, and they expect the government to help them to help themselves.  The sooner the Congress realises this the better.

Thirdly, in its first meeting after the debacle the party has rightly identified that the price rise and lack of unity in the party as the main reasons. There is need to change some policies like the supply of gas cylinders, gas price and above all containing price rise. The government and the party should go hand in hand. Fourthly, corruption seems to be yet another issue which is hitting the Congress. While the UPA is facing a series of scams the party is unable to change the perception while the opposition is able to attack the government.

Fifthly, most measures introduced by Rahul including bringing in a corporate culture have not helped. The senior Congressmen are watching with glee at the rout in the recent polls. The party, they think is run by inexperienced theoreticians and paratroopers from other parties who have never contested any elections.  Above all, the Congress party lacks communication skills. This is in contrast with leaders like Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal who are articulate. The irony is that the leadership is not even connected with its own rank and file. MPs complain that they are unable to meet the ministers and workers complain that they have no access to their representatives and their leaders. Because of this dismal performance, allies like Sharad Pawar have started talking of weak leadership. The party may not be able get new allies before the polls.

The Congress should realise that it is time to introspect what has gone wrong. A full-fledged discussion within the party should take place to make a mid course correction. The party has to find ways to retrieve the lost ground before the 2014 polls or else it will not cross the double- digit figure. Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar has already belled the cat by calling for it to cleanse the system. The first is to change the style of functioning. Second is to understand the changing India and reinvent itself to suit the 21st century voters.

Getting votes in the name of Nehru and Gandhi are not there anymore as the voters have different aspirations. The party should develop strong leadership in the states like the BJP has done instead of imposing them from above. There is heartburn about the paratroopers who have landed in the Congress form other parties who are getting importance. There should be a mix of young and old office bearers. Above all, the communication system of the party needs a thorough overhaul. Above all connectivity with the voters as well as the rank and file is the key to winning elections and not money or muscle power as Kerjiwal has proved.

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