After Uttar Pradesh debacle, it cannot be business as usual for Congress | assembly-elections | Hindustan Times
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After Uttar Pradesh debacle, it cannot be business as usual for Congress

The grand old party that has progressively looked less and less grand requires much more: motivated full-time cadres; association with grass root movements; strong leaders in regions and a central authority that permits new faces to stand up and be judged on their own strength

assembly elections Updated: Mar 15, 2017 09:08 IST
Vinod Sharma
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addresses an election campaign rally ahead of the Manipur assembly polls, in Imphal.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addresses an election campaign rally ahead of the Manipur assembly polls, in Imphal.(PTI)

Rahul Gandhi did not get it entirely right when he talked of organisational (structural) changes in the Congress in the face of humiliating defeats in UP and Uttarakhand.

The grand old party that has progressively looked less and less grand requires much more: motivated full-time cadres; association with grass root movements; strong leaders in regions and a central authority that permits new faces to stand up and be judged on their own strength.

Only such a strategy can give the Congress the social ground it has lacked in the Hindi heartland since Mandal destroyed its base in early 1990s. The BJP that then opposed OBC reservations has since undergone a personality change — evolving from a party of forward castes to that of backwards, specially the most backward classes. The Hindutva card it flaunts kept the forwards from straying away.

A disaster can be a benediction provided the victim has the sagacity, remarked a veteran Congressman. In the aftermath of the massive BJP win in UP and the state’s since bifurcated hilly part, it will be sagacious for the Congress to immediately start work on a grand alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

“There are fewer contradictions between parties in parliamentary polls than in assembly elections,” surmised the old-guard politico. In his view, a pact would be possible with the SP and the BSP if the Congress played “a facilitator more than a claimant in seat-sharing….”

The party indeed has lessons to learn from the way it treated its allies and regional satraps such as Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra and Karnataka’s SM Krishna who’s all set to join the BJP. His crossing will make the saffron party equally attractive for two dominant social groups — the Vokkaliga caste to which Krishna belongs and the Lingayats who look up to the BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa.

The Congress will be committing hara-kiri if it does not tie up with Deve Gowda, another Vokaligga heavyweight, in the upcoming polls in Karnataka. “Gowda can think like a mofussil politician. One has to deal with him without putting on big brother airs,” cautioned a former MP from the state.

Political alliances can do wonders — a case in point being Bihar. Given its love-hate ties with Sharad Pawar’s NCP, there’s a lesson for the Congress in the way the BJP tackled the Shiv Sena after the recent civic bodies’ polls in Maharashtra.

But the inescapable Congress need is of social engineering, without which it cannot salvage its glorious past. Even the ideological Left that forever believed in class struggles was forced to mull over it post-Mandal.

Aspiration does overwhelm identity in what Narendra Modi refers to as “new” India. It happened in UP where young voters went with the PM who embodied hope rather than going with the Akhilesh-Rahul duo who epitomised youth.

That brings one to the search for a leader who could match Modi’s mass appeal. The Congress doesn’t lack options that won’t disturb Rahul’s primacy in the party. But for that to happen, thinking has to start at the helm.

Repackaging at the top could entail co-option of Priyanka Vadra or a collective of young leaders with clearly-defined territorial writ. The party has to move beyond business as usual, to capture popular imagination.

But will it? Or can it? “Wisdom doesn’t prevail in the face of personal weakness,” a party veteran wistfully said. The allusion was to urgency for changing the status quo.