National Interest
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With just over two weeks to go for the first phase of voting, how battle-ready does the Congress look? How is the josh of its generals and foot-soldiers? Who are these generals? We know that it’s been telling us for some time that the Modi government is the most corrupt, inept, divisive and disastrous in our history. But it isn’t telling us how it plans to fix it. Where does it stand on the key issues that matter to almost every voter this summer: Jobs and economy, nationalism and social cohesion?

At which point, let me confront you with another question. The spin on the ball is mine, and deliberate. What do you think the Congress is today? Is it a political party heading for a life-and-death battle? Or an NGO, just doing its thing and hoping it will improve the state of the world?

It might anger the many Congress supporters, but we must turn this knife. Your rival has had you on the mat for most of these five years, and is sharpening the hatchet for that final strike. If the Congress does poorly again, it can be sure many more of the desperate and demoralised members of its “middle” will go away. It is also most likely that at least two of its new state governments, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, would be toppled. Even Rajasthan would need luck to survive.

What will then remain of the Congress? Chances are, it will still be the same old—or maybe even a new lot of—self-styled Kautilyas, Machiavellis and intellectual giants with one common feature on their CVs: Never won or contested an election. Or even lost what they were ever given charge of.

A political party has only one mission statement: To win elections. It calls for hard work and commitment, brings bountiful reward for success, but also a stiff price for failure. In short, it adds up to that one word: Accountability.

Do tell me if you think this is what’s been happening with the Congress lately. If the answer is no, I will tell you why it looks like an NGO. NGOs work hard too. But their aims, targets and focus can change with the season, or the mood in their ‘market-place’. Their competition is essentially the government. They will always look virtuous and efficient in comparison. And accountability is limited to the donor or good people’s own conscience. There is also, generally, an anti-establishment streak.


Also read: Revenge is for morons. Can Modi switch to deterrence, less sexy but way more diabolical?


The Congress has become more feudal over the years, and also less meritocratic. Very little has come up by way of new, battle-worthy electoral talent. Some old dynasts—the Gandhis included—barely hold on to their shrinking, feudal boroughs. They can’t expand the party in their regions, they also won’t vacate space for new talent. Young, bright and articulate spokespersons are great. But they do not go and fight elections, risking reputations, wealth and sunburn. You can do a listing of the top 50 Congress people all over the country. This paradox will be established.

On the contrary, as in a durbar, or an accountability-lite NGO or family-owned business, sycophants survive many disasters. You might not even remember a man called Mohan Prakash, a nothing old socialist Rahul Gandhi took a shine to. One after the other he was handed over major states to run, including Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. He apparently became famous and a favourite when, early on, he called Rahul Gandhi the Jayaprakash Narayan of the Congress party.

One thing you can say for him is, he was consistent, if in failure. Ask Congress people more about him, and they sing you the line from Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots: Kahaan se aaya thha woh, Kahaan gaya usey dhoondho… (where did he come from, where do we find him now!).

He isn’t the only one of his kind. C.P. Joshi is another long-time Rahul favourite who turned everything he touched into dust—the Northeast being the latest. Was he held accountable, you think? No, unless you think being Speaker of the Rajasthan Assembly is a punishment.

My colleague and ThePrint’s political editor D.K. Singh took me through what might be called Rahul Gandhi’s ‘A’ team. It’s a loser’s parade. Raj Babbar continues to be the UPCC chief though Congress hardly exists in that state. Ashok Tanwar, once Rahul’s young Dalit star, continues heading Haryana Congress, though he lost his own Lok Sabha election and the party was wiped out in the assembly.

Another key dynastic figure from Haryana is the party’s media head, Randeep Singh Surjewala. He recently contested the by-election in Jind and finished third by some distance. Among the general secretaries, Ambika Soni and Mukul Wasnik are spent forces but continue to be in charge of J&K and Kerala plus Tamil Nadu, respectively. Dipak Babaria (who’s he?) continues to be in charge of Madhya Pradesh. He has never contested an election. Nor have Anand Sharma (head of the foreign affairs department) and Jairam Ramesh (convenor of the powerful party core-group).


Also read: Modi has been smarter & braver on political economy in his 5 years than Manmohan’s UPA-2


Within the core group, A.K. Antony hasn’t contested after 2001. K.C. Venugopal is an outgoing MP but unlikely to contest this time to focus on party work. You’d presume Amit Shah won’t be focusing on his party as he fights for Gandhinagar.

The key counsels around Rahul are all smart, superbly educated people: Trusted aide Kanishka Singh, ace tweet-writer Nikhil Alva, ex-bureaucrat K. Raju, data-scientist Praveen Chakravarty, chief ideological trainer Sachin Rao, ex-banker Alankar Sawai and social media head Divya Spandana. Spotted something common between them? Except Spandana, none is a politician. And note the most visible among these ‘navratnas’: Sandip Singh, former JNU activist and a leader of the ultra-Left All India Students’ Association (AISA), who apparently writes Rahul’s speeches.

If you look at the general secretaries, core group, and Rahul’s key advisors, only a handful have political minds. The sharpest among these, Ahmed Patel, is no longer a central figure. Remember, he is the one Congressman with old wiles and the spine to fight Amit Shah in their home state and wrest that Rajya Sabha seat from him in that dirty late-night face-off at the Election Commission.

All this, however, would count for less if we at least knew the Congress party’s mind on the three key issues we listed earlier. It can keep attacking Modi on jobs, economy and farm distress. But how is it going to resolve these issues, we aren’t told. Even if he is going to recast the Congress into the ideology of the activists he’s now fascinated with, an AISA style raving, crimson Left force, it might even have sex appeal for some. A colourless, we-shall-tell-you-when-we-get-there approach is dead on arrival.

On nationalism, security, fight against terror and foreign policy, the Congress is frozen, until a Sam Pitroda shoots it in its butt. Nobody from the Congress states the fact that every weapons system you are fighting with, including the Mirages and Sukhois, were bought by their governments. On the other hand, they make Rahul speak easily verifiable falsehoods like “HAL made these Mirages”. It didn’t. Dassault did. HAL has never made a Mirage, nor will it make one. But his grandmother ordered in 1982 the ones we fly now. Politics needs hard work, more than just retweeting the boss. On the third key issue, social cohesion, the talk of love and tolerance is wonderful. But, how are you different if your view on Sabarimala, triple talaq and Ram Temple is about the same as the BJP’s?

In his recent Weekend Ruminations, T.N. Ninan listed the considerable achievements of the UPA government, from lifting people out of poverty, farm growth, infrastructure spending to Aadhaar. I’d add the nuclear deal. He asked why is the Congress not talking about these but letting Modi get away with this totally outrageous claim that everything good you see in India came in his five years. This is for the Congress to reflect on. If it doesn’t, you take a call: Is it a political party or an NGO? You know, NGOs are also supposed to be anti-establishment. Even when you were the establishment for a decade.


Also read: 6 factors that will determine who will be India’s next PM & who won’t


Check out My543, our comprehensive report card of all Lok Sabha MPs.


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  1. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala ( Punjab )

    Ironical to find a story from the pen of Mr.Shekhar Gupta that too under the title NATIONAL INTEREST column quite hypothetical,,
    ambiguous and partial in tone and tenor – a story just for the sake of a story without much application of mind !

    Mr. Gupta very easily forgets and overlooks the universal reality that Time does remain the same .
    It is always on its wings because sometimes-Moments are more important than things !

    There is nothing hard and fast as any thing is possible in the world especially Indian Politics or for that matter in any walk of life.
    Nothing can be ruled out here in our scheme of things . It is so because good-bad, moral-immoral, fair- foul, propriety-impropriety
    and constitutional- unconstitutional are relative terms .

    Here who knows when and how ” fair “turns “foul” and “foul “turns “fair “, “unexpected” turns “expected “and “expected ” turns
    ” unexpected” within the twinkling of an eye ?

    Moreover , it is pertinent to bear in mind one significant and stark reality that every nation, state, political outfit, organisation and
    association ought to face ups and downs, bright and dark, good and bad, and fair and foul phases as well as patches in its annals !

    The question “Is it a political party or an NGO?” raised by Mr.Gupta appears very bizarre !

    The use of simile NGO for Congress even now is sans any doubt uncalled for and unconvincing !

    Then more than a century old party with a glorious past to its credit cannot at all be reduced to the level of an NGO !

    The fact cannot be denied that after a bad patch Congress is reshaping very strongly on the political spectrum of India
    at an appropriate and suitable time ! Its revival saw a turning point in December, 2017 Gujarat Assembly Polls where it
    constrained NaMo led BJP to grapple with Congress and limp to success with a razor thin majority !

    The nation at present is passing through a very crucial, transitory and churning phase in wake of an authoritarian regime
    at the helm of the nation ! In order to get rid of chaos And totalitarianism in the nation change is knocking at the doors of
    our polity !

    In such a fluid situation and tug of war in the 2019 battle of ballot box, Congress is very well poised to spring a startling but
    pleasant surprise ultimately proving to be a BLACK. HORSE !

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest, Barnala(Punjab)

  2. It is clear as day by now. India simply cannot reform and transform as long as Congress has any political presence. Indians know well that today India does not have a “loyal opposition.” The Congress leadership simply lacks authentic Indian instincts of patriotism and pride in India. Those who support Congress are transparently simply anti-Modi but certainly not pro-India. India deserves a “loyal opposition.”

  3. I enjoyed reading your analysis. I fail to understand why no one challenges outrageous lies Mr Rahul G tells and in arrogant way he calls “chowkidar chor” slogan. Is he out to settle score with Modi on corruption? During Bofors era Modi was not on the scene. Is there any denying that this present government has done a lot of work, what Mr Ninan calls outrageous claim, that congress that ruled India almost 50 years in different avatars should have done. I doubt about maturity of Mr Rahul G on issues and a leader should take a few step back before pouncing. Mr Rahul G is on an attacking spree knowing fully well what lies ahead. Besides Mr Rahul G is entangled in National Herald case, the Herald House will also be vacated sometime. Not a happy time for the leadership. Mr Rahul G is making his own team, he is trying to rejuvenate his party. Is he choosing his generals right? Only time will tell. Mr Rahul G if comes to power will push India leftward much farther than left of center.

  4. As i mentioned earlier, decline of Congress has started from Rajiv Gandhi’s time, reversal of Shah Bano judgement that create Muslim appeasement image. To change that image he was the one who bring Ram Janmbhoomi dispute in to limelight by arranging Pooja on the vanue by opening the gates which was closed up to that time.. That gave BJP an opportunity to make Ram mandir issue in a big way. Since than Congress only came to power by themselves in 2009 the credit for that goes to image of MMS instead of that Congress thought that dynasty give them these many seats.
    They can not highlight their so called achievement between 2004 to 2014 as these were most corrupt govt years of Indian democracy, those in defence will say that there was no corruption as there is no one in the jail but we all know it is never easy to prove charges in this kind of cosy govt system it is world over phenomena. With the current leadership they will not come to power, they do not have any new idea or their idea is overpower by their records.
    India has changed with the kind of media penetration in the villages they can see through their lack of leadership easily.

  5. Excellent analysis. Even an NGO has a purpose. What role does the congress see for itself? This party under sonia & rahul is the biggest asset that the saffron camp has. As long as it continues to function visionless & clueless, arrogant & isolated, it will boost bjp & modi more than balakot & their army of bhakts. And since the first family is valued by the party more than the constitutional values nehru stood for, our hopes for a future free of communal, caste & obscurantist rhetoric & policies will come to nought.

  6. Congress is in apologetic mode as far as it’s UPA ruling period is concerned. The more it talk about UPA, the more it will invite negativity about itself. That’s why it is refraining from mentioning it’s past 10 years rule, but happily mentioning nehru & Indira’s achievements. As a streatgy, it best streatgy in current situation, though it is no good for Nation.

  7. You have become a lackey of BJP & Modi long back. Beating powerless & fighting opposition is not the expectation from media by any society. Most of Indian media today is selfish cowards who can critisize the powerless, resourceless opposition.

  8. The skies are becoming overcast for the Congress. Shri Sujit Nair, discussing recent developments in Maharashtra, said “ the party is losing the plot “. In an election speech in Malda, Bengal, the Congress President used uncharacteristically harsh language for CM Mamata Banerjee. Ms Barkha Dutt’s column wonders whether the siblings have said Vanakkam to 2019, aim to “ strengthen and rebuild the party “ in time for 2024. All over the world, parties nourish themselves by being in power, not in the opposition.

  9. It’s good to see journalists like Shekhar doing their bit in criticizing opposition, at times very valid, other times maybe not. The strangest thing is however when they refuse to hold the governing party to account. The best journalist of the country today, by a fair distance Shri Ravish Kumar, has coined a name for this media – Godi Media. Looking at last few months of output from Shekhar, it’s quite clear that despite pretenses otherwise, he is a part of this same Godi Media.

    • Ravish Kumar of NDTV, the Best Journalist in the Country; wow your preference gives away your bias. Ravish Kumar and the likes of NDTV are like the “Unholy Trying To Be Created Mahaghatbandhan”; nothing to offer, no agenda but Kaise Bhi Modi Ko Hatao. No wonder nobody watches NDTV anymore and it(both English & Hindi versions) are slowly dying a slow death; choked by falling TRPs (the Holy Grail of TV Channels).

      • The TRP chasing so called News channels do anything but news reporting. If you disagree, please quote the last time you saw them doing actual reporting by sending journalists out in the field including citites, towns and villages, instead of carrying on justt TV debates. Reporting is what NDTV still tries to do.

        There is still time. You can still decide to educate yourself, rather than accept being made a fool of daily at 9 PM.

  10. A political analysis from a politically neutral perspective. Many readers would accept it because it is free of political propaganda.

  11. It is already late by seven decades. Gandhi ji wanted to place it at its due place immediately after
    ” Transfer of Power ” or Independence in 1947 itself.

  12. An article which makes great sense till you get to the last paragraph. “T.N. Ninan listed the considerable achievements of the UPA government, from lifting people out of poverty, farm growth, infrastructure spending to Aadhaar. ” Most of the Indians opposed to dynastic politics of the Congress Party do not say that nothing was achieved during its rule. However one would have expected respectable journalists and writers of your and TN Ninan’s stature to also include the following facts: Congress promoted the interests of one family. It allowed corruption to attain unprecedented levels. Never allowed the poor and the minorities to emerge from the self-pity syndrome. Didn’t allow development work to keep pace with what countries like China achieved.

  13. Yes, Mr Gupta. One can easily understand the pain. Self certified liberal journalists like yourself, Siddharth Vardharajan, Burka Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Harish Khare, TN Ninan, et all have done their best to speak or write up Congress and its entitled leadership all these five years. Unfortunately clever tweets and one sided, ideological rants, passing of as independent journalism, does not seem to have cut much ice with the unwashed masses, who anyway don’t read The Print, The Wire, Caravan, Scroll In and like minded publications. There is no substitute for hard work and passion.

  14. In terms of handling policy and bureaucracy, bjp stands as a C-team of congress. In reality, many of the measures taken by the rightist hindutwa brigade carry the water mark of the century old outfit. But, neither are capable of changing the lives of the last millions in any significant way. And the parliamentary election this time would go well beyond the binaries you are propagating.

  15. Very interesting article. Will Congress survive a probable electoral defeat in 2019 ? It depends on how terms ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ are interpreted. If Congress goes up from 44 seats to say 80 or 90 or even 100 seats, but fails to form government with either Congress at the helm or by lending outside support to a non-BJP combination, should it be considered as victory or defeat? If Modi is re-elected as PM, will Rahul Gandhi assume the role of LOP in Lok Sabha or someone like Kharge will be chosen? Will Congressmen remain loyal to the dynasty, if BJP comes back to power at the centre? These are complex questions which are very difficult to answer. India is a very strange democracy. In USA or UK the answer would have been quite simple. One electoral defeat and you are out of the race. Barring Richard Nixon, I don’t think any other politician has come back after a defeat in the presidential election and won the race. . In UK no one now remembers David Cameron, Gordon Brown or Tony Blair and they are not missed either. But in India, even if one is nonagenarian, he can have prime ministerial ambitions. Rahul Gandhi is quite young. He can afford to wait for five years.

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