I take the liberty of writing to you in response to your resignation letter.
I draw upon our earlier acquaintance nearly a decade ago. My impressions from those few meetings with you were of a leader who was more sincere than most politicians one meets and more intelligent than anyone was willing to believe.
That positive impression, however, is not the trigger for this letter. I write to you because you invoke something bigger than your party’s interest, something that speaks to me. You seek to fight “to defend the ideals India was built upon”. Knowing you, I assume this is not insincere rhetoric. You express concern that “the attack on our country and our cherished Constitution that is taking place is designed to destroy the fabric of our nation”. This is exactly what many Indians like me fear today. You acknowledge: “We will not defeat our opponents without sacrificing the desire for power and fighting a deeper ideological battle”. I couldn’t agree more.
I wish I could agree with the rest of what you say. I wish the task of fighting this battle was as straightforward as “resuscitation” of the Congress.
Any serious effort to take on the current assault on the fabric of our nation must begin by facing some inconvenient truths. The fact is that the opposition, led by the Congress, failed the nation at this critical juncture in history. You say that your party fought a “strong and dignified” election. I’m afraid that is living in denial. Dignified in some respects yes, but strong it certainly was not.
True, “the entire machinery of the Indian state… was marshalled against the opposition”. But that hardly explains the Himalayan blunders that the opposition inflicted upon itself. Let me not detail here all that the Congress did not do in this election. I have done that elsewhere. Let me just say that when the nation needed a coherent alternative to the BJP, your party was distracted, self-absorbed and amateurish.
I do not know who to blame in the Congress. That is for your party and its leadership to find out. My own impression, as an outsider, is that the Congress leadership comprises many well-meaning persons, but no shared roadmap for larger good; many clever individuals, but no collective wisdom; unlimited personal ambition, but no institutional will to power. When this happens in any organisation, the top leadership must take responsibility. It would seem only appropriate that you owned up and resigned.
The solution you propose is “resuscitation” of the Congress. I’m afraid, this again misses the basic point. The Congress of today is not the party that you speak of, the party with a “profound history and heritage, one of struggle and dignity”. The party you presided over does not remind today’s Indians about Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel and Azad or the values of freedom struggle enshrined in our Constitution.
The Congress, as it stands today, reminds the people of dynasty rule, of unbridled corruption, of assault on democratic institutions, of massacres that enjoyed political protection, not to mention unadulterated political greed. I do not blame you or any one leader for this, but it would be farcical to deny this harsh truth. Today, the opinions of a majority of ordinary Congress workers are not very different from that of a BJP worker. Not to put too fine a point on it: the Congress of today is not an expression of the idea of Congress. We cannot assume that the Congress is the solution. It is part of the problem that the country faces today.
I wish you had also acknowledged another truth: much of the solution today lies outside the Congress party. The country has considerable energy and ideas needed to take on the current challenge to the idea of India, but these are with social movements, individuals and organisations that are either not political or not with mainstream parties. The Congress is thus not the natural vehicle for this historic mission.
In your letter, you say that the “Congress party must radically transform itself”. I do not know what you mean by that. If it means a radical reshuffle of party functionaries, that is strictly your internal matter. If it means revamping the party organisation, once again outsiders like me have no business to comment. But allow me to say that the time for internal medicine is long over. I doubt if any of these would be of great relevance to the people outside your party or would prepare the Congress to take on the big challenge facing our country. I hope the opposition does not wait for the third BJP victory to realise this.
A radical transformation could mean something else. It could mean going back to the spirit and the form of the Indian National Congress as it existed during the freedom struggle. At that point, the Congress was a grand coalition bound by a single objective of swaraj. It contained within itself political parties like the Congress Socialist Party and the Swaraj Party.
Responding to the current challenge to our republic needs nothing short of that imagination. This cannot be achieved by another opportunistic mahagathbandhan. It has to be a coming together of all Indians who believe in defending the foundational values of our Constitution. As a party that secured the support of 12 crore Indians, the Congress is essential to this project, but only if it realises that the Indian National Congress of today is no longer the umbrella to create such a broad-based unity.
That is why I ask you Rahul, when you speak of “sacrificing the desire for power”, is it only about individuals or does it apply to the party itself? Are you and your party willing to lose yourself in the service of the historic cause that you correctly identify, to submerge the organisation into something larger? Some might call it the death of the Congress. Some others might call it a rebirth.
For me, what matters is reclaiming the republic. And for you?
The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.