Turning the clock
The emphasis on revitalising paper ballots over EVMs would not be a wise decision
There were two notable features of the recent All India Congress Committee (AICC) plenary session in Delhi. One was about Sonia Gandhi demonstrating that she was a more aggressive speaker than her son, although the latter tried to make up any shortfall in this respect in his second speech. The other was the party's curious nostalgia for the past as was evident from its rejection of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) in preference of paper ballots.
While Rahul Gandhi's articulation about the Congress's policies based on love and bhaichara (brotherhood) in his opening remarks underpinned a Gandhian approach as opposed to BJP's dependence on spreading krodh (anger) and divisiveness, thereby emphasising a fundamental difference between the two parties; the thrust of Sonia Gandhi's speech was more political.
Rebutting BJP's call for a Congress-mukt Bharat, she wanted the country to be free of bhay (fear), ahankar (arrogance), pratishodh (revenge), pakshpat (partiality), and hahakar (wails of distress). For the party faithful, the highlighting of these aspects of BJP's rule can be an effective communication tool.
It is possible that these two planks of the Congress's approach to the forthcoming electoral battles constitute contrasting tactics for taking on an adversary. If presented in a coordinated manner by the party president and the outgoing president along with other leaders, they may well make an impact.
But, it is not speeches alone which are important. Even more so is the party's ability to reach out to possible allies. There is little doubt that the Congress has become more aware of its weakness since the days of the 1998 Panchmarhi resolution when it regarded coalitions as a "transient phase" and favoured going the way alone. Now, however, it has realised that the only way forward is in the company of others.
Before that, however, the party has to put its own house in order, breaking down with "love" the wall between the leaders and workers. There is also, apparently, a wall between the younger generation and the older leaders. The Congress may not be able to imitate Narendra Modi's ruthless marginalisation of the old guard, but it will be ill-advised to allow the 70-plus whose faces recall the party's scam-ridden past to be seen to be calling the shots. Instead, the promotion of the Sachin Pilots and Jyotiraditya Scindias will do the Congress a world of good.
What the party needs is the projection of fresh faces and a forward-looking outlook. Unfortunately, the call for dispensing with EVMs is a retrograde step in a digital age when even 10/12-year-olds are more familiar with smartphones than their parents. If there any doubts about the reliability of EVMs (which are usually mentioned by losers), the party should have called for their upgradation, especially when Indian prowess in this particular field of technology is widely acknowledged.
The harking back to the days of paper ballots, therefore, will only reinforce the belief that the 133-year-old party has begun to show its age. It will be like going back to black-and-white TVs and Ambassador cars. The retrogressive proposal is not unlike the preference expressed in the party's 2003 Shimla conclave where it called for introducing the quota system in the private sector – a step tailor-made for scrapping the economic reforms and a return to the Hindu rate of growth.
It is not only in the matter of realising the party's diminished political influence, necessitating an accommodating approach towards other parties which will broaden its appeal, but also an attitude which shows that the Congress is a party of the future. The Samajwadi Party's Akhilesh Yadav is among those who have understood the need to dump his father, Mulayam Singh's anti-computer and anti-English mindset and enter the 21st century. Rahul's father, Rajiv Gandhi, too, was a man of the present rather than the past.
The focus on GenNext as a means of widening a party's outreach does not only relate to weeding out the elders for the sake of making space for the young, but mainly to attuning the organisation to a time when AI (artificial intelligence) will be the buzzword in the technological and academic fields, heralding the advent of an era of which most people have little idea because of the changes which the new discoveries will bring to day-to-day life.
As the inheritors of Jawaharlal Nehru's modernistic legacy, which is reflected in the constitutional directive about developing a scientific temper, it falls on the Congress to carry forward this wonderful heritage. It is far better placed to do so than BJP, which has been making a mockery of science by doubting the validity of the theory of evolution (because no one has seen an ape turn into a man, as a minister dealing with education (!) said, and claiming that the theory of relativity was foreshadowed in the Vedic texts, as another minister dealing with science, of all subjects, argued. This is not the time for Congress to want to turn the clock back.
(The views are strictly personal)