NEW DELHI: The Congress has begun looking like the Janata Dal: amoebic, atomic, forever in ferment. The parallel might seem excessive.
But the direction in which the grand old party appears headed is unmistakable. It’s fraying at the periphery. There’s a flurry of defections in states that constitute the aggregate of any national party. Defections, one can argue, aren’t uncommon in politics.
Politicos, like sheep, leave parties for greener pastures. They also allow themselves to be stolen!
But what counts more at times is the effect, not the cause that can be addressed. In the Congress’s case, the efflux manifests its shrinking federal presence and appeal. The cross-India canopy that it once was is collapsing, props unhinging for what ever reasons from Assamand Arunachal in the North East to Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh in North and Central India.
The list of regional satraps the party has lost in the post-Indira and Rajiv Gandhi phase is long: Chattisgarh’s Ajit Jogi and Assam’s Hemanta Biswa Sarma followed West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Maharashtra’s Sharad Pawar, J&K’s Mufti Sayeed, Tamil Nadu’s GK Vasan, Puducherry’s N Rangaswamy and Andhra’s Jaganmohan Reddy. Some among them, such as Mamata and Reddy, took away the party’s ground support and cadres lock stock and barrel.
Now compare that with the consistent disintegration of the Janata Dal that could dislodge Rajiv in 1989 under the leadership of Congress renegade VP Singh. The issue then was the same a sit’s now: corruption! VP’s short-lived government was supported from outside by the BJP and the Left. But till the time it lasted, the Kamandal faceoff between the BJP and the JD queered up the Congress’s social base and thereby its national appeal. The Kamandal politics in the obtaining right-wing swing has only one claimant— the BJP. But heirs to the Mandal legacy are many.
The nuclear families thrown up by the atomic JD parivar include Mulayam Singh’s SP, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Deve Gowda’s JD (Secular), Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal, Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Ajit Singh’s RLD, O P Chautala’s INLD, the late Chandrashekhar’s Samajwadi Janata Party and Subramaniam Swamy’s one-man Janata Party that merged with the BJP in 2013.
The irony is that the Congress is falling to pieces while its senior ally in Bihar, Nitish Kumar potters around — albeit not with much success — to put together the Dal’s broken pieces to build an alternative to the BJP.
Rather than viewing him as a potential rival, the Congress leadership could try the model he’s testing. For the way ahead for the party is explained best by Charles Weller’s typing-drill ---now’s the time when all good men have to come to the aid of the party.
In its now avatar, if it indeed manages a makeover beyond cosmetic changes, the Congress would need to factor in its lexicon the right-inclined India that’s now — without abandoning the one that’s the work of its social ideas of yore.
A lesson from the past that it should carefully re-read, however, is the Nehruvian promotion, projection and respect for leaders in states. So, de-centralization is the key to the party’s revival. Its leaders must just not be able to connect with the people. They should also be good communicators. For words matter in this era of the moving picture! The BJP’s big bang 2014 win is an example.