Millennium Post

Own your party or perish

Senior leaders in the Congress party often say that party general secretary Digvijaya Singh is not to be taken seriously. Therefore last week, when he said that party vice-president Raul Gandhi should take full responsibility of the party, many did not take him seriously. However, one could not have known that Rahul Gandhi too would not take Singh seriously.

A day later at the 130th foundation day function of the Congress party on December 28, the Congress vice-president did not make an appearance. At the function held in the party office at 24 Akbar Road, Congress president Sonia Gandhi came out in freezing weather to unfurl the party flag in presence of the old guard, consisting of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni and Sheila Dikshit. Indeed it is commendable of the Congress president to come out in the biting cold, considering that she had just returned from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital after spending a week there.

The Congress party did not clarify why the vice-president was not present. In fact they have stopped coming out with clarifications, as they have also gotten used to the faux pass that Rahul regularly commits. At a time when their electoral fortunes have taken a battering, the party needs its leaders. Unfortunately that does not seem to be happening.

The Congress had found itself in a similar position in 1998, when Sonia Gandhi finally stepped in and revived the party. From being in power in just two states, the party went on to form the government in 14 states. In 2004 she led the party to an unexpected victory in Lok Sabha polls and bettered its performance in 2009. For her it was a case of baptism by fire and she took on the challenge.

In Rahul Gandhi’s case, it’s a case of leadership being handed over to him on a platter. Thus he, like his father Rajiv, does not value the confidence and faith party cadres have reposed in him. Having been made prime minister by a cabal, on his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, Rajiv won the people’s mandate, riding on a sympathy wave. No wonder that he decided to call his party leaders’ ‘power brokers’ in his famous address at the centenary session of the Congress in April 1985. When he made those comments, he was armed with, what the opposition called, a brute majority of 400 plus members in Lok Sabha. Rajiv Gandhi had not exactly rubbed shoulders with his party cadres in 1985 to win the mandate, as was the case with Rahul Gandhi in 2004 and 2009.

One wonders if Rajiv Gandhi, having grown wiser after remaining in Opposition for two years and then leading the party back to power in 1991, would have once again called his leaders power brokers. Unfortunately he was assassinated and one never heard his thoughts surrounding other party leaders. PV Narasimha Rao, who succeeded him as Congress president and also became the Prime Minister, had never articulated his thoughts on party leaders.  

Unlike her predecessors, Sonia Gandhi as party president showed extraordinary qualities of not only reaching out to her cadres but also to her political adversaries. She went out of her way to accommodate scions of her bitter rivals Jitendra Prasada and Rajesh Pilot. Sachin Pilot and Jitin Prasada are among the current assets of the party today.

Rahul Gandhi had inherited the party in robust health, like his father. In consonance with his father’s views, Rahul did not find anything right in his party. The Gandhi scion has great aversion for leaders, who have been with the party for generations. He initiated a reforms process within the party soon after its victory in 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The reforms process is yet to be completed, even as the party has been routed in almost all polls since 2009.

In the name of establishing a new look to the party, Gandhi has destroyed the existing organisational structure and failed to provide an alternative. His team of political managers may make good copy for English language magazines and newspapers, but they make no sense to the people at large. In the process of bringing changes within, the Congress has ended up losing the Lok Sabha and all Vidhan Sabha polls held thereafter.

Efforts by Rahul Gandhl’s team at event management have borne no fruit thus far. As I’ve written in these columns earlier, the relationship between the Congress party and the Indian masses survived for over a century because all these years, its skippers had nurtured some very strong grass root leaders. It was through these state leaders that the Congress high command managed to connect with the masses.

Whenever Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi tried to clip the wings of these leaders, they ended up paying a very heavy political price. Rahul Gandhi has a bigger problem at hand. He does not know whether to clip their wings or not. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi at least did not have the dilemma of not being in politics. Rahul Gandhi often gives an impression that he is not interested in politics.

This is very dangerous for the party’s future. With the leadership remaining indecisive and lacking in clarity, the future of Congress is indeed bleak. The party leaders may counter this premise but that’s not important. The counter to this perception has to come from Rahul Gandhi himself. If he is not interested, he should make it clear. If he is interested, he should show the will and desire to lead the fight back.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post

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