The party must connect with the masses, become their voice and capture their aspirations. It should protect and build upon its legacy and values and liberate itself from inertia, mediocrity, and status quo
When news reports revealed that Prashant Kishor, the brilliant election strategist from the land of the legendary Chanakya, was in talks with the Congress Party, there was a wave of excitement and hope in old Congress supporters and those who firmly believe in democracy. Maybe, the man with the Midas touch could revive the comatose Grand Old Party which has nearly been decimated in the country? After all, isn’t Kishor the man who has delivered sure-shot electoral victories for many a political party in India?
Though, knowing the rigid nature of the Grand Old Party which has resisted every attempt at modernising it and rescuing it from the stranglehold of the dynasty, it was too much to hope that Kishor would be able to make a difference. But optimistic Congress-watchers thought maybe it was providence that the 45-year-old who had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for many a political party, had offered to give the gasping 135-year-old party the kiss of life?
The “will they, won’t they” get married drama played out in full public view with the country’s media following every move and giving a blow by blow account. Those who wish the country well were hoping against hope that for once, the Grand Old Party — which is now just Old and nowhere near Grand — and those who run it and swear allegiance to it, would embrace this opportunity to set their house in order. When I say ‘those who wish the country well’, I don’t mean that it is only the Congress who can run the country well and the rest just make a hash of it. Far from it! The present dispensation may have its faults and may justifiably be called out for its politics of polarisation and strong arm tactics where the minorities are concerned. However, one cannot deny the good that they have done for the country in many ways.
If there is the threat of demolition for opponents and selective arrests and punishment for communal riotors, there is also ‘Make in India’ and the fact that the armed forces are being pushed towards becoming more Atma Nirbhar. The Government’s push towards modernising the military with a two-pronged approach: Reforms, alongside the hastening of weapons acquisition, and upgrades in the three services and the push towards making India a global defence manufacturing hub cannot be overlooked.
If there is silence on cow vigilantism we do have the Government to thank for abolition of Triple Talaq, a tool that has been used by Muslim men in India for ages to harass and subjugate women. If there is a deafening silence on attacks on places of worship of the minority community there is also the determination to bring the Uniform Civil Code in the country that will not only simplify laws and speed up the justice delivery system in India, but will also provide protection to vulnerable sections like women and religious minorities.
Then how can we forget the move to digital currency and Ayushman Bharat? These were some much-needed policies and reforms that only a Government that stands on its own with an outstanding majority could bring. Because, as we all know, coalition politics always gives us a Government which is standing on legs of clay that can be broken any time by a disgruntled alliance member.
But, while there are advantages of having a strong dispensation at the helm, there is always the danger of absolute power corrupting or going to the head and making the Government arrogant to the extent of it forgetting the fact that it is here to serve and not to rule and ride roughshod over the wishes of the janata janardan, because after all, we are a democracy.
This is where a strong Opposition serves the nation and the cause of democracy by making sure that the powers that be, don’t overreach. A strong Opposition is as much responsible for the good of the nation as the incumbent Government. By the very nature of its responsibility and position, it serves the great purpose of providing the much-needed checks and balance without which democracy is in danger of getting pushed aside and marginalised. A strong Opposition serves as the voice of the people which will go unheard if their representatives cannot make themselves heard.
By losing its position as the main Opposition party of the country, the Congress is guilty of depriving the citizens of the country with a safety net. There is no one to question the Government or stop its policies from going awry on issues that matter to the common man. Remember, absolute power corrupts absolutely, as does the knowledge that ‘There Is No Alternative’, the much-dreaded and talked-about ‘TINA’ factor. Nothing turns a democratically-elected Government into an authoritative rule faster than knowing that there is no one to challenge its authority and the people have no one else to vote for because of a lack of a strong and credible party that can take over the reins of the country and lead it on the path of progress and development.
The Opposition has been trying to cobble together a Mahagathbandhan for the last several years, but each time it all falls apart because, let’s get real, why would stalwarts like Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, Chandrababu Naidu to name a few, bow before the triumvirate? These senior leaders are ruling or have ruled States at one point or the other. Let’s not kid ourselves that netas serve the people. All political correctness and niceties aside, a Chief Minister of a State wields a lot of power and commands respect and enjoys his/her clout. Hence, come hubris and ego, both by-products of the power they wield. Why would they bow before people who have never even run a State on their own accord and whose only claim to the country’s top job is that they come from a long line of Prime Ministers?
So, by rejecting Kishor’s offer to turn the electoral fortunes of the party around and save it from total annihilation and irrelevance in India’s political firmament, the Congress has failed the people of this country. It has handed them the TINA factor. And unless some miracle happens and the highly divided Opposition is able to cobble up a motley crew to pose a credible challenge to the largest political party of the day, the country will have to resign itself to be ruled by a single party for a long time to come. And that cannot in any way be healthy for any democracy.
One can only hope that the party which cannot think beyond the dynasty, will at least take heed of the advice given by Kishor. He made an insightful diagnosis of the malaise that ails the Congress and suggested the remedy too.
He pointed out, and rightly so, that the party has been in a state of decline since 1985, from after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, one of the most iconic Prime Ministers this country has ever had. Under the questionable leadership skills of the current bunch the Congress has had a poor track record of winning direct contests with the BJP. It has not only failed to capitalise on its legacy and achievements of the past. It has, in fact, managed to erode them due to the culture of sycophancy, unquestioning authority and entitlement that it has nurtured.
It is rife with structural weakness and there is an obvious lack of connect with the masses. And what to say of its jaded and aged leadership, the Old Guard which is so afraid to lose its clout and the protection of the high command that they don’t let the young Congress leaders have their way or say, resulting in frustration, and in some cases like that of Jyotiraditya Scindia, defection.
The Congress has nurtured a stifling culture of unquestioning obedience to the High Command and to point out the party’s weaknesses a la the G-23 results in castigation and humiliation. One wonders how is it that some of the smartest and brightest minds in the Congress like Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Mani Shankar Aiyer, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Hooda, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Prithviraj Chavan, Raj Babbar, PJ Kurien and Sachin Pilot continue to bear the yoke and don’t do what Indira Gandhi did in 1978 and form their own party? Surely the nation deserves to benefit from the knowhow and expertise of such veterans? It deserves to be able to choose from one strong party capable of leading the country to another strong and equally capable one that takes everyone along without tearing the social fabric asunder.
Failing that, the Congress should heed Kishor’s advice and reincarnate itself by creating a new Congress which will become political platform of choice for the people. It should protect and build upon its legacy, values and core principles and liberate itself from inertia, mediocrity, and status quo.
It must destroy the culture of entitlement, lack of accountability and sycophancy that pervades it right now and throw off the baggage of nepotism and corruption.
It must connect with the masses, become their voice and capture their aspirations. In a way the party has already begun on that path by Rahul Gandhi calling out the Government repeatedly on the price rise and other issues that are relevant to the people. However, to be taken seriously, Rahul must commit wholeheartedly to politics once and for all or walk his path. Sonia must rid herself of putra moh and let her daughter, Priyanka, who is more than willing, take over the reins of the party. There are enough capable hands in the party to guide her if she so wishes.
Kishor has shown them the way, it is up to them to pay heed to his advice. Ironically, the Kishor debacle reveals all the things he said were wrong with the Congress. They have a communication team incapable of outsmarting trolls, their political opponents and even Kishor’s team. Their inability to handle affairs, public perception and the media let a private affair turn into a public one, with the whole country watching the drama unfolding in front of them. And their leadership, which could not show the open mindedness to accept what was in their best interest. He was their shot at revival and political relevance and they didn’t take it. Hopefully they will put their reluctance and hubris aside and deeply consider the advice he has given them.
As veteran Congress leader Digvijay Singh, who was also a part of the eight-member committee set up by Sonia Gandhi to study Kishor’s presentation, very aptly put it: “It is ultimately the Congress which has to move and put its house in order. Consultant or no consultant.”
I hope the Congress High Command, the ‘Old Guard’ and ‘Team Rahul’ is listening, because they owe it to the nation to pick themselves up from the mire they find themselves in and give the country a credible and strong Opposition party which can hold any Government at the Centre accountable. They have to do it for the nation, if not for the sake of the 135-year-old party itself. And as Kishor said, only the Congress can save itself. The Grand Old Party that has seen many ups and downs in its fortunes doesn’t need the brilliant kingmaker but a “leadership and collective will to fix the deep-rooted structural problems” within itself “through transformational reforms”. Maybe the Chintan Shivir where Sonia has asked for big ticket changes and reforms is a step in the right direction. Only time will tell…