We still don’t know which way the dice will roll in these elections, but it is fairly clear that the Congress does not have too many aces. In this context, Union minister Jairam Ramesh’s remark that the old must make way for the new seems one way in which the grand old party can reinvent itself. It has tried a number of ways in this election to market itself — projecting its secular credentials, its track record over the last 10 years, its entitlement-driven legislation, its foreign policy achievements, etc. None seems to have caught the popular imagination. This suggests that the party has to undertake some serious introspection once the elections are over.
In many ways, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was on the right track when he tried, though not too successfully, to democratise the party. To this end, he tried to choose party workers through interviews, opting for the US-type primary system when it came to candidates. He has tried time and again to project the party as being inclusive. All these are welcome but they cannot be done in fits and starts. The party has to now sit down and chart its course irrespective of the outcome of the election. Mr Ramesh is right in saying that the young in the Congress must be given their place in the sun. The older leaders have to know when to call it a day in active politics and function as mentors. This would be in keeping with India’s youth demographic and their desire for a break from the baggage of the past.
The Congress has, in its political pantheon, several young and experienced ministers and leaders. If the party is to be led by Rahul Gandhi, now is the time to let them flourish. Whether Mr Ramesh agrees or not, the old guard have been grudging in allowing the younger generation to come into their own. Many of the more talented among them are in thirties and forties — not exactly young by any standards. Many have proved themselves in politics. Mr Ramesh has raised this point before, advocating a cut-off in age for politicians to be in active service. At that time, his suggestions were either played down or rejected outright. But, now the Congress has to try every strategy in the book to change itself and make it once again relevant to a new India. Dynasty and pro-poor policies alone will not do. The party needs fresh and vibrant thinking with the guidance of the more experienced leaders. This is the first thing the party must do when the final vote is counted in May.