Millennium Post

In defence of Rahul

With its projection of Rahul Gandhi as vice- president and officially number two, the beleaguered Congress party can hope for its rejuvenation as the county’s most potent political force and stave off the challenge to its supremacy in next year’s general election. The Sonia - Rahul Gandhi duo, having correctly diagnosed the shortcoming of the political system and governance, should lose no time in initiating immediate steps-organisational, as well as, legislative – to empower the disaffected people, particularly women, meet the growing aspiration of the restive youth and an assertive middle class and also counter the challenges of inimical forces and entrenched vested interests that put roadblocks to economic development, wealth generation and social sector reform.

The hackneyed argument about dynastic succession trotted out from time to time, mainly by the right wing opposition, does not hold because democracy does not bar talented people from projecting themselves as political leaders, regardless of their parentage. The charisma of the Nehru- Gandhi family always overawes them and they tend to conveniently forget that Lal Bahadur Shastri and Narasimha Rao did not belong to the distinguished family, nor does the current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who will doubtless complete ten years in office, with a creditable record of having shephered the economy during most crucial times. The Bharatiya Janata Party likes to forget that in Punjab it is in coalition with the Party of Prakash Singh Badal, who has already empowered his son as sucessor- deputy chief minister as well as, president of the sectarian Akali Dal – and until recently it was part of the Orissa government supporting Navin Patnaik – son of former chief Minister Biju Patnaik – who suddenly appeared on the scene from abroad and could not even speak his mother tongue Oriya to be able to communicate with the people. In Haryana, it supported Devi Lal and later his son O P Chautala as chief minister, who has been held guilty of corruption.

It is not for other parties to sermonise what is good or bad for the Congress. The BJP should first try to extricate itself from the clutches of the throttling RSS to be able to elect a leader – whether party president or a state chief minister –before pointing fingers at others for democratic functioning. The Congress Party has made the right decision and at the right time to revive the morale of its cadres, tired of its archaic style of functioning that does not allow room for initiative and injecting of young blood. Rahul Gandhi, who has spent close to eight years interacting with the masses to know their problems, has taken up the challenge to ensure that the party delivers good governance, justice with equity and steady economic growth to generate employment and boost the people’s living standards. Despite its ceaseless campaign against corruption and throwing all democratic norms to the winds by paralysing functioning of the Parliament, the BJP lost both Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh to the Congress in the recent assembly elections.

Congressmen can only hope that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul together succeed in rebuilding the Party, giving it a firm ideological direction and making it relevant and attractive to the younger generation that did not witness the country’s glorious freedom movement. Rajiv Gandhi too had talked in similar words at the Mumbai Congress Centenary session in 1985, as Rahul did in Jaipur, on the need of ending the culture of power brokers who ‘dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy’. But, his efforts to transform the party did not succeed, such was the resistance from vested interests who controlled the organisational, as well as, the election machine. Rahul Gandhi, 27 years later, expressed similar sentiments, that power is grossly centralised in the country where only people at the top of the system are empowered. The youth is angry because it is alienated and excluded from the political class. They watched from the sidelines, as the powerful drive around in their Lal Battis (red beacon bearing vehicles).

He laments that the present system is designed to promote mediocrity. The people want a say in governance, politics and administration, which could not be decided by a handful of people behind closed doors who were not fully accountable to them. The present system robs the people of their voices, it disempowers, instead of empowering. All public systems - administrative, judicial, education and politics - are designated to keep people with knowledge out and promote mediocrity. People who stood up to talk about corruption were themselves corrupt and those who disrespected women in their daily lives spoke of women’s rights. This culture needs to change and a modicum of honesty and sincerity should be introduced to rehabilitate the system that has been derailed by self-serving politicians in cohort with dishonest and opportunistic civil servants. The Chautala case has demonstrated how the system of corruption works and has eaten into the vitals of society.

At the same time, he does not talk of rapid and violent change that would unsettle things, because the maladies afflicting have become chronic and require prolonged treatment. Therefore, changes will be made gradually and smoothly. He also stated his resolve to keep the old guard on his side and learn from their experience, as he was not the leader of the youth alone, but belonged to all sections in the party ‘which is now my life’. Change is to be brought about slowly, after consultation and with persuasion and understanding across rank and file, without discrimination of seniority or juniority, experience or lack of it or gender. The Congress party’s DNA is derived from every Indian, regardless of caste or religion or their discrimination.

Sonia Gandhi has made a correct diagnosis of the ills and asked her partymen to recognise the new India, with a younger, more aspirational, more impatient, more demanding and better educated generation. In a veiled reference to regional parties, she said the Congress now faced increased competition and inroads have been made into its traditional support bases, which need to be retrieved. People are fed up with corruption in public and higher levels, which must be arrested. It would be dangerous for growing educated middle class to be disillusioned and alienated from the political process. Performance, not patronage, must be the ladder to advancement in the party. For the Congress that has been a champion of the poor and the marginalised, Gandhi’s indirect admission that the middle class was a constituency the party ignored at its peril. This was also meant to serve as a reminder that the party will face its fiercest challenge in next year’s general election in urban and semi-urban India - where it performed remarkably well in 2009.

Rahul Gandhi is not acting alone, for he has the entire party leadership behind him, when it comes to rejuvenating it and making it fighting fit for the 2014 electoral battle. It is a long haul, because the Congress clout has declined over the decades and it will take hard work from its youth wing, the Mahila Congress and other party organs to recover some if its traditional bases in the face of fierce opposition from regional outfits, mostly caste-based, which have distorted the thinking of the people and made the society more divisive than before. He has been a silent worker and his efforts may not have yielded the expected results, say, in UP and Bihar, but he has acquired a good knowledge and understanding of what afflicts the country’s economic and social system and has laid hands on some remedies, which get reflected in the Jaipur declaration. In the coming days his workload will increase as the opposition will get more uncompromising and also unsparing in its attack on the government with a view to ousting it. Organisationally, or otherwise, it is in no position to mount a serious challenge to the Congress, which has delivered steady economic growth, though it has had to take some unpleasant decisions. (IFS)
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