Boris Johnson has been described as an “out-of-control shopping trolley, veering from position to position” by his former adviser and now an ardent critic Dominic Cummings. Indian National Congress, on the other hand, can be described as a shopping trolley with jammed, rusted tyres that refuses to budge. The reason I’m drawing a parallel is because Congress can learn a lot from the Conservative Party, which dethroned the very man who brought it to power in the UK. It can also draw lessons from Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
It’s common sense that a churn within parties in a democracy is good. But does the Congress have within its rank and file the ability and will to look for leaders beyond the Gandhis?
For the now-diminished party, the “enough is enough” moment hasn’t really arrived yet. And one cannot imagine why. The inertia of Congress has really undone the party. Its longest serving president is Sonia Gandhi: 24 years and counting. Even by the Gandhi family standards, it is a bit of a stretch considering Indira Gandhi served for eight, Rajiv Gandhi for seven and Jawaharlal Nehru for four.
It almost seems as if the Congress is more averse to change than it is to Narendra Modi. No one in the party wants to discuss the process to choose a new successor to Sonia. The G-23 tried, but its efforts ended in a whimper because the rest of the Gandhi family acolytes seemed too offended by the idea of a leadership change — something that political thinkers, strategists and even insiders have repeatedly said will do the Congress a world of good.
I can guarantee that even the BJP will implode if Modi were to lead the party for 24 years. In fact, the BJP has managed to learn this early, which is why Amit Shah bequeathed the workings of the party to J.P. Nadda just six years after he took over as its president. And there’s enough chatter about Yogi Adityanath being groomed as the next PM in line, which is why the Uttar Pradesh chief minister is the star campaigner in every assembly election, be it in the South or Northeast, to make voters see him as a pan-India leader as opposed to just a monk-turned-leader from the Hindi heartland.
Examples of change before Congress
Leadership is no longer guaranteed in regional parties either. The same winds of change are blowing in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Shiv Sena as well. After the death of J. Jayalalithaa, the contest for AIADMK’s succession was bitterly fought, which led to the break-up of the party into two factions, one led by O. Panneerselvam or OPS, and the other by Edappadi K. Palaniswami EPS. And although one can say that the OPS and EPS factions weakened AIADMK’s position in Tamil Nadu, which led to DMK coming back to power after a decade in 2021, one cannot deny that EPS still holds goodwill among the Dravidians owing to his stellar governance during Covid.
Winning 80 seats while facing anti-incumbency and an alliance partner that was forcing South Indians to speak Hindi is no mean feat. All in all, a party that would’ve been paralysed without Jayalalithaa turned a new leaf by an internal churning. The split in the party was perhaps a small price to pay for a brighter future. On Monday, the AIADMK expelled OPS from the party’s primary membership and his post of treasurer.
A similar churning has happened within the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. The Eknath Shinde faction saw 50 of the 55 Shiv Sainiks switch sides from the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to one of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in partnership with the BJP. Uddhav Thackeray has also faced disappointment in Thane Municipal Corporation where 66 of his 67 corporations joined the Shinde faction. All in the name of an ideology that they adhere to. A churning that would have seemed impossible within a party led by a Thackeray is today a reality.
The Congress now remains a self-proclaimed lone ‘national’ opponent of Modi. Truth is that it has hardly been able to make a dent in the BJP’s vote base in the last two Lok Sabha elections. It even managed to lose the states it had won. And even the BJP has turned down its volume against the Congress, be it the ‘Pappu’ jokes or the ‘Vadra corruption’ accusations. Instead, the BJP is now in full frontal attack on state leaders who pose a bigger threat to it than the Congress ever did — be it Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee, Uddhav Thackeray and now K. Chandrashekar Rao.
How many more years will it take for the Congress to realise that enough is enough? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The author is a political observer who tweets @zainabsikander. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)