‘Disappointing’ was one word, ‘no major takeaway’ was another phrase. These are the observations of Congress spokesman Anand Sharma on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit. This is of a piece with the ultra muted conduct of the Congress ever since it was beaten in the Lok Sabha election. There was a visit by party president Sonia Gandhi to Kashmir after the floods but apart from that nothing much.
Mr Modi, on the other hand, invited Congress MP Shashi Tharoor to be part of his ‘Clean India’ campaign. The truth is that ever since it lost, the Congress has made very little contribution to public life. It may not enjoy the status of principal Opposition in the Lok Sabha, but it has 44 MPs and surely they have something to say beyond Mr Sharma’s trite remarks or the occasional barbs on television from its spokespersons.
The Congress should consider itself the shadow Cabinet. This does not mean that it reacts to the government but that it proactively comes up with alternative suggestions. We have seen little of any of this so far. As for the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, he seems to have all but disappeared. The role of the Opposition is not to wait until the government trips up and then alone criticise it. It is to also point out the flaws in policy and make suggestions to the government. For example, before Mr Modi went to the US, the Congress could have come up with a wishlist of things it wanted him to say or do while there. Instead, it sat back and let Mr Modi take over the whole show.
The Congress also ought to be looking seriously at legislation, an area where it has immense experience. Losing an election and being voted out of power does not mean that the party abdicates governance. The Opposition is very much part of the democratic governance system, it serves to formulate the checks and balances on the government of the day. But the Congress seems to have forgotten that it has a duty to the millions who did vote for it.
After the whitewash job of absolving certain leaders of blame for the defeat, the party seems to be in hibernation. Apart from the fact that it ought to be trying to reinvent itself, it also ought to play a far more constructive role in public life.
The PM has said that he wants everyone on board as he goes forward. The Congress should take him up on his word. For a start, its top leadership ought to be more visible in public and not leave it to hapless spokespersons to put across the party’s view in TV studios. Disappointing perhaps is a better description of the Congress’ performance since the elections.