Congress stuck in time warp with Gandhis at helm, no question changes will be merely cosmetic

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Decisions taken at the recently concluded meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) firmly established that the party is not turning away from its 'dynastic' character.

If any reinvention, that the party urgently requires, is witnessed either over the remaining period of the self-declared "full-time" president Sonia Gandhi's tenure, or after Rahul Gandhi is made to "consider" donning the mantle again, there remains no ambiguity that this will be merely cosmetic.

With all possibilities of a major structural and characteristic renovation that Rahul's July 2019 resignation suggested now ruled out, the Grand Old Party (GOP) represents the order of feudal decadence in the political terrain.

Without drawing parallels to any of the characters depicted, the Congress today reminds me of the worlds in which Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar and Abrar Alvi's Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam were set. The Congress leadership now appears as lead players unable to come to terms with changes in the political terrain. Consequently, they appear as out of date personalities incapable of extricating themselves from the morass, drowned in their self-intoxicating world.

The triumvirate that effectively matters in the party has chosen to hide behind the constitutional mandate, that the party president is elected for a period of five years. But, although it has an "interim" chief, she will continue presiding through the remainder of the tenure.

Despite Sonia's claim of being the one in command, key decisions don't have her signature, as the change of guard in Punjab demonstrated. The separate existence of de facto and de jure presidentship is causing immense damage to the party.

Given this situation, Sonia's assertion and continuance in the post are merely meant to signal continuity of power within the family. This arrangement shall remain in place till it is felt that time is opportune for Rahul to take over again. It is once again the question that was pivotal within the Congress before he took over in December 2017.

The message to dissenters is that they need to either come to terms with this reality or ship out. Already, some among the G-23 are veering around to the conclusion, and making peace with it €" that the family will not yield any control. This indicates that their primary dissatisfaction is over the leadership's paralysis and refusal to examine issues that led to Rahul stepping down.

The pace of Indian politics is, however, unsparing.

 

On the one hand is the unceasing aggression of the BJP's electoral machinery which is already strategising ways to overcome multiple-challenges the party has faced in recent months. On the other hand, several non-Congress parties have been making considerable headway in spreading their area of influence beyond the original stronghold, while others are consolidating their political base.

Take the case of the Trinamool Congress, which has now stepped out beyond West Bengal to almost the whole of the Northeast and even Goa. Or the Aam Aadmi Party, which is again a serious contender in Punjab, besides having ambitions in other states.

True that the majority of non-BJP parties are also 'family-run' parties and thereby are also controlled on lines similar to the Congress. Even parties like AAP have belied hopes of ushering inner-party democracy and remained under the thumb of a strong leader.

But, the emergence of parties like Trinamool Congress reduces the Congress' area of influence and will undermine its bargaining position while negotiating an anti-BJP platform for the 2024 polls. The hunger for power is far greater now among one-time and current allies of the Congress. This is being realised by several important former leaders of the Congress like Sushmita Dev who deserted ship. Quite clearly, nurturing leaders is not a strong point of Rahul and to a great extent this reflects visible arrogance in his personality.

From the time when Rahul Gandhi acquired the moniker of a part-time politician, he has sadly displayed only that much interest as required to maintain a set of privileges. There is no point of 'partaking' in a buffet meal that resembles Indian politics, if one does not pile up on the plate, in standard style. Or, as Barack Obama famously said, politics requires people with a thick skin willing to get roughed up, there is no place for the faint-hearted.

It is not that the BJP is a greatly democratic party. Contrarily, the party in the past seven years plus has witnessed complete decimation of the collegiate style of its functioning that was its hallmark and stood against the family model of parties.

Despite accounting for the majority of MPs who are heirs of political families, and the fact that even Jay Shah owes his BCCI position mainly to his surname, the BJP has successfully insulated itself from the charge of being a dynastic party. There are reasons behind this, the biggest being the presence of a leader like Narendra Modi.

For Rahul to get the Congress truly under his thumb, he has to first enlist the people behind him. The take-it-or-leave-it style that Modi dishes out for party leaders and allies, is because of his perceived winnability in elections. Getting back to winning ways is the best way for the Gandhis to become the moral authority they once were.

Only then can they be spared the spectre of satraps of questionable popularity, like Navjot Sidhu, tweeting a letter to Sonia Gandhi a day after her remonstration of the dissidents for articulating views through the media.

Indian politics is accustomed to the presence of autocratic leaders who flourished by showcasing democratic pretensions. Leaders in the Congress were aware of the basic character of the party when joining it. The decision of the G-23 leaders was guided more by exasperation at inaction than hyperactive dominance of the leadership.

For much of the period after July 2019, the Congress leadership has been conspicuous by its absence. The elaborate, albeit unnecessary, schedule for party polls shall be counter-productive unless during this period, Sonia Gandhi is visibly an active and assertive party president.

Presence, in public and party fora, is essential if the Gandhis and the Congress are to stage a political comeback and assume leadership of an anti-BJP platform.

The writer is an NCR-based author and journalist.t His books include 'The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right' and 'Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times'. The views expressed are personal.€‹

Also See: Congress may hold CWC by month-end to discuss internal issues, say sources

Elections to Congress president's post to be held in September 2022, say sources

Congress presidential polls to be held next year; Rahul Gandhi 'considering' taking up top post

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