A somewhat lengthy sabbatical by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, just as the budget session of Parliament gets underway, has raised speculation on his motives and also suggestions that the grand old party has lost the plot.
The excuse that this break is to ponder over the future course of the party is really thin on the ground, considering that the party has had nine long months to do so. The crisis in the party is plain for all to see — its leadership seems uninterested and dispirited, has not evolved with the changing times, and worse still, it doesn’t seem to know how to do so. Social media has emerged as a major tool for political parties to disseminate their views.
In fact, the politicians today can connect directly with people and engage them. Very few among the Congress’ top leadership has done so effectively.
The Congress did come up with a few game-changing schemes during its years in power. But, it was not able to market these effectively, resulting in its spectacular loss at the hustings.
Today, some of those issues are back on the table, yet the party seems unable to even take ownership of them. It has instead become just another player in the Opposition to some of the changes the government has made to issues like the land acquisition Bill.
The MGNREGA, which the UPA piloted, is another scheme that enjoyed some success and is now facing a fund crunch. The Congress was neither able to cash in on it earlier nor is it able to counter the government’s moves on it now.
The party may not have the numbers in Parliament, but even outside, many of its top leaders seem disinterested in its fortunes. There are no fresh ideas, certainly none which will appeal to a youthful demographic, emanating from the party. But the Opposition space seems to have been ceded to other parties with the Congress as just another face in the crowd.
This suggests that the party seems unable any longer to function out of power, which makes the task of revitalising and galvanising it all the more difficult. Social media could be used as a tool to get back into the game. Vigorous participation in public debate is another. But the catalyst for these — an energetic leadership — seems missing. That is something that the party has to address on a priority basis if it can muster the enthusiasm.