Arackaparambil Kurien Antony is an odd and enigmatic persona in the complex, murky politics of India. A Catholic by birth, he is an agnostic, but earned the sobriquet of ‘saint Antony’ and ‘Mr Clean’ for being a transparent politician.
But his recent action of absolving the Gandhi family for the Congress’ unprecedented electoral rout has cast a cloud over his ‘sainthood’.
Many partymen are, albeit in private, questioning the hatchet man for what is called a fixed report, while the ‘secular’ lobby in the party is piqued with his earlier remark that the party’s proximity to minorities had led people to doubt its secularism.
Soon after the 2014 Lok Saba drubbing, Congress president Sonia Gandhi asked Antony to dissect the reasons and submit a report to her.
His findings, handed over recently to Gandhi, have not been made public, but the former defence minister, during a media interaction, has, among other things, blamed the media and the UPA government for the party’s worst electoral performance.
Antony, inter alia, is reported to have said that the BJP has been able to manipulate the media. But who is to blame? The Congress had come under severe criticism in the last two years for its pathetic political and media management, but the haughty honchos in the party did not pay heed and woke up too late to catch up with the BJP on social media.
The party’s communication with the people was so bad that then prime minister Manmohan Singh flagged the issue at the Congress chintan shivir in Jaipur in January 2013.
In any case, what is the use of yet another Antony committee report when half-a-dozen of his previous reports are gathering dust at the AICC’s strong room?
Any political analyst would know that the poll debacle is due to the collective failure of the Congress leadership. Then why insulate the first family?
From Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi down to the Lok Sabha candidate, everyone has been responsible for the party’s dismal performance.
As battlefield commanders, the Gandhis ought to share the responsibility. Rahul, who was appointed head of the party’s central election coordination committee, had a major say in ticket distribution.
At the same time, to be fair to the family, the state satraps, Union ministers, AICC honchos and local leaders have also failed. Not one among the high-profile Cabinet ministers won a seat in Delhi.
Barring Jyotiraditya Scindia, none of the young brigade could win their Lok Sabha seats. Jitin Prasada, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, RPN Singh, Ajay Maken are among the notable losers.
Soon after the 1999 Lok Sabha poll debacle, Sonia Gandhi had asked Antony to study and submit a report. After the 2008 Karnataka assembly defeat and after the dismal performance in Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Punjab in the 2012 assembly elections, Antony was again tasked to post-mortem the causes.
It seems, none of the reports have been acted upon. The party neither learnt any lessons from the 2012 fiasco in Uttar Pradesh nor went in for course correction.
In contrast, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls the BJP outsmarted all by winning 71 of the 80 seats while the Congress lost 20 of its 22 seats won last time.
Will the latest report by Antony on the 2014 catastrophe produce any results? It is unlikely, if one goes by the Congress veteran’s comments after submitting his report: “We are confident, just as we did in 1977, we will overcome this difficult phase as well. [The] Congress will overcome this.....We will be able to regain the loss, strengthen our party.....”
This optimism betrays not only a simplistic approach but also the party’s inability to come out of its outdated, fading grandeur.
The times have changed, the demography has changed, and there is an explosion of electronic and social media. If there is no quick and out-of-the-box solution, the Congress will continue to be boxed in, if not doomed.
(Kay Benedict is a freelance journalist. The views expressed by the author are personal.)