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Opinion | The Congress finds itself in a familiar place

All the Congress has to do to start the process is to answer two fundamental and related questions. One, what does it stand for? This has to be more than the party’s heritage or its long association with one family. The second question is: what is its purpose? Does it have a larger purpose revolving around the country and its people?

columns Updated: May 26, 2019 09:57 IST
Chanakya
Chanakya
Hindustan Times
Indian National Congress,Rahul Gandhi,Sonia Gandhi
Two senior leaders have voiced disagreement with how the campaign was run; party president Rahul Gandhi’s offer to resign was unanimously rejected by the Congress Working Committee; and the party’s district chief in Amethi has taken responsibility for the party president’s loss from the Gandhi family pocket borough, and resigned(ANI)

The Congress finds itself in a familiar place.

And it seems to be reading from an equally familiar, if tired script.

Two senior leaders have voiced disagreement with how the campaign was run; party president Rahul Gandhi’s offer to resign was unanimously rejected by the Congress Working Committee; and the party’s district chief in Amethi has taken responsibility for the party president’s loss from the Gandhi family pocket borough, and resigned.

As always, accountability flows bottom-up in India’s Grand Old Party

The Congress finds itself in a familiar place.

Others have been here before it. Among political parties, for instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party has.

It was all but decimated in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, winning just two seats. The numbers went up to 85 in 1989; 182 in 1998 when it formed its second government (the first, in 1996 lasted just 13 days; this lasted 13 months); fell to 138 and 116 in the UPA years; and then soared to 282 in 2014 and 303 in 2019.

The Congress, with 206 seats of its own in 2009, has seen the number fall to 44 in 2014, and rise marginally to 52 in 2019.

A lot has been written about the BJP’s revival in the Advani-Vajpayee years – around the twin strands of Hindutva (especially the Ram temple movement), and alliances. What will it be for the Congress?

The Congress finds itself in a familiar place; it is a place in which companies regularly find themselves.

The companies have an easy solution which actually seems to work – they change the top team, starting with the CEO. Change is always frightening, but the companies that effect such changes know that the impact of not changing could be much worse (even if it appears marginally better optically, like a 44 turning into a 52, for instance).

Then, if the Congress is, as its opponents uncharitably suggest, and some of its own members embarrassedly admit, a family firm, changing the top team isn’t an option.

Strangely enough, family-managed companies – India has a lot of them – have the answer to this too. They separate ownership from management. They professionalise. They empower a new team to change things. It is naive to expect that all qualities and abilities required to run and lead a company are resident in one limited genetic pool, and the good companies realise this. The ones that don’t, suffer. What did the Congress do? In the finest tradition of not-so-well managed family enterprises, ahead of the elections, it parachuted Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra into a senior position, effectively making her No 3 in the party.

But where do they find leaders? After all, if the Congress party is to be believed, it is very difficult to find leaders. Smart companies look within. They look at unlikely alternatives. They look at young people. And if that doesn’t help, they look without.

A digression may be in order here. Narendra Modi, who has just won a second term as Prime Minister, is the tallest leader in the BJP today, but that wasn’t always the case. In old photographs of Advani filing his nomination in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, Modi is in the margins. As is, in some photographs, current BJP President Amit Shah. Both worked their way up the ranks — and their party allowed them to. Their party also had the organisational strength to support them and while much has been said of how the BJP’s organisation is stronger than the Congress’ (this is probably true), the BJP is actually a far younger party than the Congress. Almost every state in India (some of the newer states are exceptions) has, at least once since independence, had a Congress chief minister. That can’t be said for the BJP. So, why is the Congress weak organisationally?

In contrast, the Congress hasn’t really groomed young leaders. In December, when an opportunity presented itself to the party to opt for change and pick young chief ministers in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh had also worked hard to ensure the party’s success in the elections), it looked the other way. It won one seat in Madhya Pradesh and none in Rajasthan in the Lok Sabha elections. And the party’s top decision making body, the Congress Working Committee, has a constancy that’s almost frightening.

All the Congress has to do to start the process is to answer two fundamental and related questions. One, what does it stand for? This has to be more than the party’s heritage or its long association with one family. In at least two conversations with Hindustan Times, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has said that his party’s core philosophy is to stand with the underprivileged, disenfranchised, and the wronged. Maybe that’s a good place to start.

The second question is: what is its purpose? Does it have a larger purpose revolving around the country and its people? It’s not just the leadership of the party that has to ask itself these questions; everyone throwing in their lot with it should. To succeed electorally, the two answers should be relevant and salient to the electorate.

The Congress finds itself in a familiar place. It has to decide whether it wants to find itself there again in 2024.

letters@hindustantimes.com

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First Published: May 25, 2019 19:27 IST