Crossroad of Congress history
What Congress essentially requires is a new structure and spirit
After a very brief tenure of just one-and-a-half year as Congress President, Rahul Gandhi decided to quit his position around a month back and his party is in an unprecedented dilemma ever since. Rahul's ultimatum period to find a new president in his place within a month will end in the next few days. Congress Working Committee (CWC) had unanimously rejected his resignation and gave him all the powers to restructure the party at all levels in the hope that he will take his resignation back, but all the efforts to persuade him for a rethinking on his decision turned out in negative during the past one month.
It now seems almost certain that despite a deep gloominess within Congress over his decision, the party has to find someone else to occupy Rahul's chair by the end of this month. After the results of 2019 general elections, Rahul also told CWC on May 25 that no member of Nehru-Gandhi family will take over the presidency. It has made the exercise to choose another face even more problematic.
Deciding about the future presidency cannot be painless for Congress at this juncture for various reasons. A very low level of morale of the party workers after a consecutive second debacle in the national elections needs a boost by very strong and dependable leadership. If not even Rahul, Priyanka or Sonia Gandhi, who else will be able to provide such encouraging hegemony? There could be divergent views among some of the senior and middle-level leaders about the capability of primacy Rahul has, but the foot soldiers of Congress across the country have a universal recognition for his resolve, especially after the campaign he ran during the 2019 election. They seem in no mood to welcome any other personage as their captain.
CWC does not have powers to appoint a full-fledged president. It is authorised only to appoint a provisional president. Clause (h) of Article 18 of Congress constitution says, "In the event of any emergency by reason of any cause such as the death or resignation of the President elected, the senior most General Secretary will discharge the routine functions of the President until the Working Committee appoints a provisional President pending the election of a regular President by the AICC." That means anyone chosen by the CWC will have to get his appointment rectified during a special session of All India Congress Committee (AICC) where the members of the Electoral College for the President's election are present.
I have no idea how creamy would it prove for the 'provisional president' when it is put on the consent test. Holding the AICC session cannot be delayed for long. Rahul Gandhi was elected, not appointed, as the Congress president on December 16, 2017, and an AICC Plenary session was called in four months' time after that on March 18, 2018. In the case of 'appointing' someone as the new president of the party, it ethically becomes more fundamental to put it for approval before the AICC at the earliest. An emergence of possible disquiet in the minds of Congress workers immediately after an unlikely face holds the fort in place of Rahul could prove to be a potent hindrance in the smooth sailing of the fresh incumbent.
CWC is empowered to appoint a new president, but to make him admissible to the party on a pan-Indian basis; Rahul himself will need to walk many, many extra miles. He will have to equip new president with a team of dedicated implementers and a core group of few working presidents or vice presidents. It will not be a bad idea to set up a Parliamentary Board (CPB) consisting of the Congress President and nine other members, one of whom, as per article 25-A of the party constitution, should be the leader of the Congress in Parliament (CPP). In today's turbulent political weather, the active presence of CPB could play a very important role in installing the new president with required credibility and trust.
It is impossible for Congress to take on the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and simultaneously grow as a strong political force without the active participation of Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka trio. To achieve this goal the party has to take a uniform approach. It has to go a long way with a common narrative with like-minded partners in different states. Congress has to draw a road map in over a dozen states where it drew a blank in these elections. Congress leaders have to put their heads together to find an answer to an unexplainable electoral outcome. One may call names to Nehru-Gandhi's so-called dynasty but it is a fact that to build a strong castle of Congress on firm ground, the party needs them now even more. Their absence from the scene will lead Congress to an inconsequential future.
Congress must go ahead very carefully in choosing its next president in the backdrop of the stubbornness Rahul is showing. He has been persistent but being stubborn is different. People are stubborn about what they perceived to be the right thing or wrong thing. It takes a really long time to filter this human condition. There will be a waiting period with Rahul also until he catches up. But if you have patience — which it takes when someone thinks differently from you — everybody always catches up. So, patience is the only virtue for the Congress party at this crossroad.
Rahul's plans might have failed but it should not be interpreted as his failed vision. His plans could not succeed because he had very few well-meaning executers around him. But his vision is intact. Visions don't change, they are only refined. Plans rarely stay the same. They are always scrapped or adjusted as needed. Rahul is stubborn about his vision, but, I am sure, he is flexible with his plans. So, let Congress wait in a lounge for some time until his next course of action takes the shape he wants.
Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. We see the sun go down in the evening and the sun comes up in the morning. There are so many opportunities in the life of a political party that the loss of a few capabilities is not necessarily debilitating. Congress now must not miss any opportunity to be a part of political business in the 'Modi-Shah' era if it wants to survive and bounce back. You gain strength, confidence, and courage by experience in which you sometimes stop to look fear in the face. But if you have lived through this horror, you can certainly take the next thing that comes along. To be a champion, Congress has to see the big picture. It is not about winning or losing, it is about every day hard work and about thriving on a challenge. Therefore, Congress does not require a new president; it actually requires a new structure and spirit to adopt.
(The author is Editor & CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. Views expressed are strictly personal)