Battered Congress’ leadership dilemma in the new House

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 19, 2014 00:50 IST

Are the days of dynasty politics over? Would a decimated Congress be better off without the Nehru-Gandhi family that has been another name for the party since Independence?

The argument for change takes strength from the party’s total or near-total obliteration in many states, especially Delhi, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh, it could only retain the seats held by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul. Many of its stalwarts, including senior ministers fell by the wayside, reducing to a rump in the 16th Lok Sabha the party that ruled the country for 10 years.

Yet it would stand to reason that the Gandhi name, regardless of its falling stock, remained the party’s best hope to keep it united for a revival in the near or distant future. The history of contemporary India is replete with instances of top leaders staging comebacks after humiliating debacles. Remember the Indira Gandhi of 1977, AB Vajpayee of 1984 and Chandrababu Naidu of 2004?

But what might work for it as an organisation could be self-defeating for the Congress in Parliament. It needs to put its best foot forward in the Lok Sabha where its talent resource stands depleted in the absence of the likes of P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Jaipal Reddy.

That instantly raises questions about its firepower in the House. Can the party with 40-odd members be an effective Opposition group — more so when its numbers are only marginally more than those of regional parties such as the AIADMK and the Trinamool?

A miniaturised Congress needs experienced, articulate voices that are heard and respected. Almost the way the communists of yore made felt their presence despite small numbers.

That brings up another question — that of its leadership in the House. The position once belonged to President Pranab Mukherjee, the party’s man for all seasons. He was a one-man army who could blunt the rival onslaught with the gravitas few among his peers could claim.

Among the Congress notables who have won and have fine debating skills are Kamal Nath, Capt Amarinder Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, KV Thomas and Shashi Tharoor. Rather than sticking to organisational hierarchy, the Congress would do well to delink and rearrange the pecking order in Parliament.

The parliamentary group chair can remain with the party chief or her son. The mike must belong elsewhere.

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