Sanjay Jha column: Congress must first survive to thrive

Sanjay Jha
·Former National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress party
·4-min read

During the coronavirus times, one adage that has become extremely popular is ‘we need to survive to thrive’.

Companies are reinventing business models, rationalizing expenses, rightsizing companies and redoing their business strategy. Essentially status quo is out of the window. The pre-COVID-19 period seems like another age altogether.

For sure, post-vaccine, the world will go back to the good old ways of visiting restaurants, watching movies in a multiplex, crowding metros , frequent fliers will increase their miles count and hand-shakes and air-kissing will return, too.

But there will be a seminal change in attitude and approach. Companies will create not just a Plan B or Plan C, but even contingency preparations for unforeseen black swan moments. It is expected that the world will have to reimagine itself, particularly those industries that have been severely hit by the global headwinds of recession; food and airlines, travel, real estate and hospitality, retail and fashion, et cetera.

Over time, these distressed companies among the vulnerable sectors will probably end up developing more robust models that will weather storms with greater equanimity and fewer disruptions.

We learn. We absorb and assimilate much more when tested. Catastrophe is a profound teacher.

Unfortunately, the political party I represent ideologically seems to be still lost in a hazy maze of its own making. The Congress needs to look within before it looks out. Rajasthan could be the last straw.

In the 2013 Rajasthan Assembly elections, the Congress ( 21 seats) was decimated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (163). That is, the BJP won 82% of the total seats in the state legislature. It was sheer annihilation.

Ashok Gehlot was the chief minister and the Congress leader in-charge of the election campaign. It is true that one should never blame just one person for a dismal showing (albeit, conversely, individuals are given wholesome credits for victories), but the role of the principal architect is usually primordial.

After all, Gehlot would have had maximum influence on campaign theme, manifesto, choice of candidates, alliances, if any, and other related tactical decisions. The buck must invariably stop at the top.

The Congress took a bold step to reinvigorate its demoralised, if not altogether debilitated, electoral structure by appointing a young Sachin Pilot (36 years) as the president of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee. It was a decision that combined foresight with practical strategy.

Pilot, enthused by the challenging responsibility, immediately got down to serious business. He travelled the length and breadth of Rajasthan covering every constituency to get a first-hand feel of what needed to be done (he apparently covered over 5 lakh kilometres by road).

For five years, he stuck to his agenda to resuscitate the Congress at a time when the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combination was vaporizing the Congress in every state election and adding to its impressive tally.

Out of the blue, December 2018 became a watershed: it marked the extraordinary turnaround where, after several years, the Congress miraculously stopped the formidable BJP victory momentum in three states. One of them was Rajasthan, the other two being Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh.

If anyone was singularly responsible for the remarkable comeback it was Pilot. But what followed was a travesty.

The Congress leadership in its consummate wisdom, however, made Gehlot the chief minister (for the third time) again and the man of the moment was made his deputy. Performance was not the criterion, certainly.

It is true that in politics several extraneous variables need to be factored in, but this was still quite flagrant injustice. Not surprisingly, in 18 months, the uneasy fragile truce exploded. It was inevitable. The Congress was, owing to its own mismanagement, endangering one of the few states it still had in its bag.

It had not learnt any lessons from the monumental faux pas it had made in Madhya Pradesh where it had a slender majority. In losing a political heavyweight in the feisty Jyotiraditya Scindia , the Congress had surrendered power back to the BJP in the state, which it had recaptured after fifteen years of a mammoth struggle. It was double trouble.

Like corporations, political parties need alacrity, agility and an adaptive proclivity to succeed. The old-fashioned style of chintan-baithak, where a few spoke and the rest just nodded in acquiescence, is over. A collaborative work culture will work better than the top-down fiats issued by a cabal.

Post-COVID-19, the power of digital outreach using social media has proliferated. Although direct interface is what most politicians will always prefer, technology enables wider audiences, more personalized conversations and therefore transparent feedback. Understanding the public pulse matters.

With its national footprint considerably dissipated after losing Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, it is imperative that the Congress does not lose Pilot and Rajasthan. There is still a chance that good sense will prevail. Or else it will be double jeopardy.

It must understand the new apothegm of our times: ‘first one needs to survive to thrive’.

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