Millennium Post

Shadow between emotion and response

The media department head of the Congress party doesn’t have an envious job at hand. Former union minister, and one of the more articulate members of parliament, Ajay Maken has been given the task to sell scrap as shinning metal. While the media advertisements which the Congress has released are eye catching but will they bring any accolade for the hollow pronouncements of its poster boy Rahul Gandhi is something to be watched.

If the Congress manages to put up a credible performance in the upcoming general election despite a very lackluster leadership, lot of credit should accrue to Maken’s efforts, to use cricket imagery, for standing in as the night watchman. The possibility on both counts – Congress performing credibly and any credit accruing to Maken – as of now looks remote. In the country’s oldest party all credit accrues to the first family and blame put on the strategists.

Maken’s defence of Rahul Gandhi’s introduction of primaries for the selection of Lok Sabha candidates is a case in point. ‘Rahulji’s idea of choosing candidates through primaries is in line with his focus on opening the system. He wants to put an end to the high command culture in the party in decision making. After giving the power to ordinary workers to elect their officer bearers as was done in NSUI and Youth Congress, he wants office-bearers to be empowered and have a say in candidate selection,’ Maken said in a recent newspaper interview propping up his boss’s idea.

Though Maken claimed that Rahul’s move is targeted at ending High Command culture in the party, this is something which the Congress leadership in its present weak state is incapable of delivering. Rahul’s father Rajiv Gandhi at the centenary session of the Congress in1985 at Mumbai, amidst much brouhaha, had attacked ‘entrenched power-broker culture in the party.’ However, despite commanding a ‘brute majority’ in Parliament he failed to rid the Congress of ‘power brokers.’

In his famous speech, Rajiv Gandhi had said, ‘Millions of ordinary Congress workers throughout the country are full of enthusiasm for the Congress policies and programmes. But they are handicapped, for on their backs ride the brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy. They are self-perpetuating cliques who thrive by invoking the slogans of caste and religion and by enmeshing the living body of the Congress in their net of avarice.’

Two years later, Rajiv Gandhi was back playing into the hands of the backroom boys and taking sides in fight between the cliques driving out leaders like Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Arun Nehru. When his father and mother could not cure the party of the malady, what panacea Rahul Gandhi has is difficult to comprehend. Rahul Gandhi in his address at the AICC session at Talkatora stadium last month and his interviews to a newspaper and a television channel has so far failed to delineate any roadmap which Gandhi may have prepared to rejuvenate his party cadres. Maken claims that the process (of primaries) is part of the long-terms plan to bring sweeping changes in ticket distribution and other processes in the party but at the same time adds that the project has been taken up on pilot basis as the elections are on the head.

On the contrary, should the Congress not have made use of its weak position forecasted for the upcoming polls as the opportunity to rid the party of, to use Rajiv Gandhi’s words, brokers of power and influence? His attempt to put seats of ministers Kapil Sibal and Krishna Tirath in the primaries list met with immediate resistance and the seats were taken out from the list. The primaries list for a long time cried for a name at serial number 15 and finally ended in a macabre facade.

The party, despite the brave talk by its vice-president, developed cold feet on touching the constituencies of the sitting MPs. The move was surprising as the Congress is predicted to lose, according to opinion polls, more than 50 per cent of the 203 LS current seats it holds today. Of the seats initially finalised, only two were won by the Congress in 2009. Howsoever much the acolytes of Congress vice president may claim of their leader ‘walking the talk’, a reality check reveals that the talks are being walked only half of the way.

The alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party in Bihar is another indication of the Congress vice-president’s inability to have harmony between what he preaches and what the party practices. Much to the embarrassment of the prime minister and other senior leaders, Gandhi had called the Ordinance brought for giving protection to indicted politicians nonsense and forced its withdrawal. A few months down the line, the Congress has now decided to embrace a criminally convicted Lalu Prasad Yadav as an ally and dump a clean and much better administrator like Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

While on the one hand Gandhi claims that he has much to learn from the rise of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), on the other he fails to comprehend that corruption is the biggest issue staring at the Congress. As in 1996, when P V Narasimha was at the helm, despite the economic reforms, the Congress was badgered in the polls on account of corruption charges manifested numerously in Hawala and several other scandals. It lost power in 1989, when Rajiv Gandhi was at the helm, on account of Bofors scam.

Congress today is once again facing 1989 and 1996-like challenge. The party’s capacity to steer clear of corruption charges depends on the ability of Rahul Gandhi to keep himself and his family above suspicion. This is an onerous task and Congress vice-president so far has proved to be unequal to the job.

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