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Rahul’s sabbatical mania hurts Cong

Rahul’s sabbatical mania hurts Cong
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi has gone abroad once again after addressing a successful rally to celebrate the party’s victory over the withdrawal of the Land Acquisition Bill. Eyebrows are raised at this sudden foreign trip when there is a crucial election in Bihar. Although Congress is a minor partner, there is a danger of the party drawing blank, which will further demoralise <g data-gr-id="72">party</g> workers. A good show in Bihar polls would send a message to other states where the Congress is facing factionalism and indiscipline. The party leadership has to address this urgently else things will deteriorate further.

For instance, the recent decision of Assam Congress leader <g data-gr-id="70">Himata</g> Biswa Sarma to quit the party to join the BJP should be viewed seriously because it has almost become a continuing process with disgruntled leaders leaving it.  The next in line is former Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, who is threatening to launch his outfit. Bihar results will decide what happens in other states like Madhya Pradesh.

Sarma and the Captain are the latest examples of regional leaders looking for greener pastures. What should be worrying to the leadership is most of them had been the PCC presidents at one time or the other. These include G.K. Vasan, Gnanasekharan, Giridhar Gomango. D. Srinivas, Abdul Ghani, <g data-gr-id="79">Vakiland</g> Choudhary, and Birendra Singh. Of these, Birender Singh is now a Cabinet Minister in the Modi government, G.K. Vasan has revived Desiya Tamil Maanila Congress and Giridhar Gomango has joined the BJP. Other senior leaders like Jayanthi Natarajan, Avtar Singh Badana, Jagmit Brar, Krishna Tirath had left earlier. The erosion seems to be a continuous process since before the 2014 polls. Some of those who joined the BJP include Satpal Maharaj, who has a following in Uttarakhand, K.S. Rao, D. Purandhareswari, Jagadambika <g data-gr-id="73">Pal ,</g> and Birendra Singh.  The party, which is making a comeback bid, should first introspect why so many congress leaders are leaving the party? This is not the first time the erosion is taking place.

The major reason is the systematic emasculation of state leaders.  First of all, there is a leadership crisis as the dynasty is almost gasping. The Nehru-Gandhi magic is no longer working. Secondly, it is no longer the party of the freedom struggle as it has acquired the baggage of opportunists. Thirdly, it has lost its core voters and unable to attract the youth. The fact that the BJP has overtaken the Congress in its membership speaks volumes. Fourthly, there is also a leadership crisis in the states and lack of second-rung leaders. Fifthly the Congress faces a structural dilemma on several fronts including organisational decline and ideological stagnation besides core supporters.

At one time, it was a democratic party with a formidable effective political machine. In the 1970s, Indira Gandhi made systematic efforts to change it into a centralised and family-driven political organisation. From then on no attention was given to the reorganisation and regeneration of the Congress.  Nothing has been done to get back the loss of states where the Congress was once dominant like Tamil Nadu, U.P, Bihar, Gujarat, West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh.

Between 2004 and 2014, the Congress not only won two national elections but also won 21 Assembly elections. But there is no evidence whatsoever that the party had used its stint in power to energise the organisation. Instead, in the last ten years, it has promoted rootless leaders who have not been able to stand up to the job.

In a democracy, there is every need for a strong opposition and the Congress and the BJP had played this role in the past two to three decades. If the Congress diminishes further, it will leave a vacuum. Looking at the next two years, there is not much hope for the Congress to improve in the states going to polls like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh, or come back in Assam or Kerala.

There is no doubt that the revival hinges on the party’s ability to address its crisis of credibility, establishing State leaders, functioning as a vigorous Opposition in the Parliament and outside too. Also much depends on just how long the Modi effect will last.

If and when Rahul is anointed Congress chief, he will inherit a weak and ageing party apparatus. It will be a tough task for him to build a new, young team that may take a decade or so. Rahul has so far failed to be the leader Congress needed him to be. He has not acquired Indira Gandhi’s understanding, Rajiv Gandhi’s modern ideas of taking India to the 21st century or Sonia Gandhi’s hard work. On the contrary, he is alienating the old timers by importing some outsiders and giving them positions.  Many <g data-gr-id="75">satraps</g> have stated their annoyance with Rahul for facilitating the appointment of young PCC chiefs in their respective states. Old guards fear that they will lose their clout in a post -Sonia dispensation. As of now, the only positive thing going for Rahul is his age and clean image. 

Rahul needs to bring back organisational depth and evolve a political programme that can bring back groups that have left <g data-gr-id="77">it,</g> if he is serious. The Congress has paid a heavy price for its disconnect with the masses. <g data-gr-id="76">Its</g> big concern today is the steady erosion of its support base. Such a scenario needs to change. Only then can it tell the world who it is – and why it is different to an alternative.

(Views expressed are personal)
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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