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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Opinion | A road map for a new-look Congress, writes Amarinder Singh

To bounce back, it must pick a young president, empower regional leaders and embrace alliances

analysis Updated: Jul 11, 2019 08:45 IST
Amarinder Singh
Amarinder Singh
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi(ANI file photo)

The Congress today stands at an inflection point. The resignation of Rahul Gandhi as party president has sparked a lot of speculation and discussion on “what now?”. This is quite natural. What, however, seems a bit unnatural is the scale of the response and reaction.

After all, this is not the first time the grand old party has been in the midst of a crisis which has led to the prophets of doom virtually writing it off. The assassination of Mahatama Gandhi and the revolt against Indira Gandhi that culminated in the party’s split were some examples. However, one remembers how the party has defied the predictions of doom to emerge stronger, better, and bigger through every crisis. And that is what I see happening this time around too.

I am sure after the dust on Rahul’s resignation has settled, we will see the Congress as a more powerful political entity, rising to new heights of success under the continued visionary guidance of the Gandhi family. In fact, I see Rahul also emerging stronger through this period, to carry forward his family’s legacy of taking the party to greater heights in the years to come. The Gandhi family’s contribution to building the Congress heritage cannot and should not be undermined, even as we look to carving a new-look party.

The catch phrase here is “new-look”, because that, eventually, is what the party needs at this stage. And I am not referring to a cosmetic change but a deep-rooted change, for which the seeds have already been sown by Rahul and which we, as the grand old men of the party, need to now nurture. Rahul has shown us what a new way of thinking can do for a party which has always taken pride in connecting with the masses. It is time now to take this way of thinking forward with a new, energised and more forceful dynamism.

A few days ago, I had said that what the party needs at this critical juncture in its journey is a youth leader. Today, through this column, I would like to elaborate a little more on my stand. India has come a long way since its post-Independence years. An ageing population has given way to the youth, even as the political landscape has transformed, with more and more regional parties calling the shots. The expectations and aspirations of the people have changed through the decades, and India today stands out, demographically, as among the world’s youngest nations, with 65% of its populace comprising the young.

The future of the Congress also needs to be seen in this contextual backdrop. With its large youth population necessitating a youthful outlook and dynamism to cater to their aspirations, the party needs a young leader to build the much-needed grassroots connect. Rahul, as I said earlier, laid the foundations of this new young Congress, and it is now left to the others to strengthen those foundations by appointing another youth leader to galvanise and lead the party forward. Only by doing so can the party hope to reconnect with the masses (a large majority of which is under 45), and revive its fortunes. Just like the nation, experience needs to give way to youth in the Congress too.

Happily for us, there is no dearth of youth icons who have made a name and place for themselves in the party in recent years. It cannot be so hard to pick out one of those names and hand over the party’s reins. All that is needed is the willingness to accept that this is the only way for the Congress to survive and grow, and the will to act in accordance.

That is one aspect of the change which needs to be addressed if we are to restore the Congress to its former glory. The other, equally important one, relates to the rise of regional parties and leaders, who have transformed the political equations in many ways. For any political party, to ignore this reality can only be at its own peril. The Congress, in all humility, also needs to acknowledge and embrace this new reality, and build its future strategy in tandem with it.

Regional alliances, and more autonomy to the party’s own regional leaders, will, in my opinion, give a big boost to its efforts to connect with the people pan-India, and eventually translate into bigger vote share and more electoral victories for the party. We have seen this happen in Punjab, where the party leadership trusted me, and gave me a free hand, to win not just the 2017 Assembly polls with a resounding margin, but every small and big election thereafter, including the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections.

As in life, so in politics, change is the only constant, without which there would be no progress, and no future. The Congress, under Rahul, saw the veracity of this statement. All we need to do now is to augment our change ethos, to make it a part of our new philosophy.

Amarinder Singh is chief minister, Punjab

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 11, 2019 08:39 IST