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Congress still wants to solve its problem with the problem — Gandhis. Solution is change

The fact that Congress needs rebuilding is no rocket science, the question is who it needs rebuilding under. A leadership change is what it needs to talk about.

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The hours-long meeting of Congress leaders called by interim president Sonia Gandhi over the weekend showed once again the party is in no mood to fix the problem that brought it to its current state in the first place — the Gandhis. The Congress refuses to even discuss the issue that needs fixing before anything else — a leadership change away from the Gandhi family. The Congress is trying to solve the problem with the problem itself.

In the meeting with over a dozen party leaders, former president, but default Congress face, Rahul Gandhi said he was ready to rebuild the party. The fact that the party needs rebuilding is not rocket science; the question is who it needs rebuilding under. That Rahul Gandhi has failed to build, rebuild or re-rebuild the party is well-known, why then is the Congress wasting more time and capital in discussing his or the Gandhi family’s role, instead of addressing the delicate but most crucial question of a leadership overhaul?

The discussion over a leadership crisis, leave alone change, was not even initiated in the Saturday meeting that took place four months after 23 key leaders wrote to Sonia Gandhi, emphasising the importance of a full-time and active leadership.

The biggest crisis facing the Congress at this point is a weak, directionless, disinterested and largely disconnected top command. The solution to that is not holding more meetings or chintan shivirs.

But even six years after the 2014 election shock, the conversations still seem to be around which Gandhi should lead the Congress and, at its most audacious, about the gap between the high command and the rest of the party. But talks about a new leadership seem nowhere on the horizon, and as a result, neither does the party’s revival chances.

Also read: Motilal Vora, the Gandhi family loyalist, ‘uncle’ figure & chronicler of Congress history

The leadership mess

The crisis in the Congress didn’t emerge overnight. It has been cooking over a slow flame since the UPA 2 years, and has only worsened with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s arrival on the national stage.

Not everybody is meant for electoral politics. Rahul Gandhi most certainly isn’t, and as is becoming increasingly evident, neither is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. They may have their own strengths. Rahul Gandhi, for instance, is well-meaning, with an idea of an inclusive social fabric (his janeu-dhari Brahmin tag notwithstanding) that is much-needed in an era dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s polarising politics.

But leading a party is a completely different ball game. Sonia Gandhi managed to pull the party out of a deep rut when she first took over as president in 1998. She succeeded in reviving the party electorally, and helped bring the Congress to power at the Centre for 10 years – largely due to her ability to forge alliances and adapt to the coalition era – and leave behind a legacy in the form of some key legislation and policy decisions.

Rahul Gandhi’s experience, however, has been vastly different. The Congress has been in free fall and Rahul’s involvement has only hastened the slide. The Congress leader has neither been able to capture the imagination of the voters in the Modi era, nor strengthen the party or its organisation. Rahul is erratic and often lackadaisical, surrounded and advised by those who barely understand the twists and turns of Indian politics.

A lot rested on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s ‘formal’ entry into politics, but unfortunately for the Congress, that turned out to be a damp squib as well.

Rahul Gandhi may say he is willing to rebuild the party. But did he not say that after the losses in the 2013 December assembly elections when he promised to introduce changes one cannot even “imagine”? If he is to take charge of the Congress again, whether as president or simply as ‘messiah’, how does his stepping down last year make sense? Little has really changed between then and now to make Rahul Gandhi more equipped to handle the party and rebuild it.

With Sonia Gandhi past her political prime and with her health not always on her side, the baton must pass on. The problem in the Congress is not the lack of leaders — its performance in states, whether Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and others, is adequate proof of that. The problem is the inability to look beyond the first family.

Also read: Rahul’s favourites have asphyxiating control over him, says Congress ex-spokesperson Sanjay Jha

A party in denial

An even bigger problem, however, is that Congress leaders don’t even want to initiate and entertain a conversation about leadership change.

The 23 dissenting leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi in August demanded a “full-time and effective leadership”. They got a hearing a good four months later, but even then, the leadership question was politely skirted.

“The subject of elections for the post of party president was broached, but only briefly. Since the central election authority has already been charged with the task to hold elections, we didn’t find it wise to discuss the subject for too long,” an attendee at the meeting said, as reported by my colleague Fatima Khan.

If the most critical challenge facing the party — that of an effective top leadership — was merely “broached”, and “briefly” at that, then the Congress has gone so irretrievably far in denial mode that the idea of any sort of resurrection seems far-fetched.

Sources in the party say while some leaders are satisfied with the fact that the Gandhis, at least, started the process of engagement, others say nothing concrete came out of it.

During the meeting, Congress leaders said they want more chintan shivirs. But what would they even deliberate at these shivirs? What they need to do chintan about or contemplate is the way forward – first towards and then under a fresh, more able leadership. But that hardly seems to be on the Congress high command’s to-do list.

Also read: Even if you take Rahul Gandhi out of politics, the idea of India won’t spring back to life

Can’t see beyond Gandhis

“The media made a big deal out of the letter. When everyone considers Rahul ji and Sonia ji their leaders, then why would there be any fight?” Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot told ThePrint. “The meeting was very congenial; everyone’s perspective was heard. Everyone felt that Rahul Gandhi should take the charge of the leadership,” he added.

Recently, in an interview to me, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said he wanted Rahul Gandhi to take charge as president again.

These are all senior, sensible party leaders who refuse to even look beyond the Gandhis, despite the last six-odd years having been an absolute debacle. Those in the party who do raise the issue of a weak leadership, like the 23 dissenters, are relegated to the minority and made to feel satisfied simply with the fact that the family deemed it fit to engage with them.

The Congress is just going around in circles. American philosopher John Dewey had once said, ‘A problem well put is half solved’. The Congress needs to openly and unapologetically acknowledge its problem first — the need for a complete leadership overhaul, before it can even think of emerging out of the quicksand it finds itself in.

Views are personal.

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  1. Because congress is not a political party but family owned enterprise wit 100 % share holding with gandhi’s

  2. The stinking scandals under the UPA II regime indeed brought the Congress Party down, and Rahul Gandhi was sleep-walking at that time. But he has worked hard in the last two federal elections and proved that he has the right stuff. One has to consider the BJP money power and religious fanaticism that he had to deal with. No one else would have succeeded either. Congress Party is in the best position to fight BJP nationally, and Rahul Gandhi is the best person to lead it. Moreover, age is on his side.

  3. As democratic nation we need Congress, not the Congress of Gandhis but Congress as an alternative to BJP . Congress, NCP, SP, TMC, DMK, PDP, NC are family satraps and BJP is absolute opposite. That is the reason Congress lost strong leaders like Himanta Sarma, Sindhia to BJP.

    Currently, Congress can only be a party to be counted as loser (not challenger) against BJP. This is not good. Congress for sake of nation (not Gandhis) must reorganize

  4. I am not a fan of bjp under modi shah but articles such as this one keep me with them.
    From the article “Rahul Gandhi, for instance, is well-meaning, with an idea of an inclusive social fabric (his janeu-dhari Brahmin tag notwithstanding) that is much-needed in an era dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s polarising politics.”
    So calling oneself a brahmin makes one less inclusive? Or does inclusive mean exclude Brahmins?
    Suporting casteist leaders to win elections is having an idea of ‘inclusive social fabric”? Wow

  5. A simple question to the author
    Imagine Shaw is Congress President , Modi is PM candidate , how many seats congress can win ?

  6. Congress doesn’t need Chintan Shivirs, it needs Chetna Shivirs. A cowering dog with tail in the hind legs can’t shoo others off , it needs to bark to be heard and respected. Sleeping dogs can’t have Chintan, chetna is neede for chintan, Congress chief ministers are all for the Gandhis to keep their seats warm. If the Gandhis can’t leave Congress let the Congress leave the Gandhis, It’s high time, madam has had her innings, it needs new batsmen and bowlers. The party is being squeezed and strangled, no need to watit till there is no breath left. Why are the other Congress leaders so impotent, that should be discussed, power is sntched and not received as a kahartat, other leaders should snatch it from the failing hands of the Gandhis. Otherwise, Congress is a FAILING PARTY, WITH A FLALING LEADER AND FLUSTERD FOLLOWERS. REAL CONGRESSMEN SHOULD WAKEUP AND SMELL THE COFFEE.

  7. Throughout in last 20 years or so, media was quite indulgent about Congress and its Royalty.
    At last, when it is not possible to defend, indefensible, media has come to some right conclusion.

  8. For national sake it’s imperative that the Congress rejuvenate itself. And for that to happen it’s now imperative that it split. Leave the lazy Gandhis with equally lazy cabal of sycophants. Let the leaders who are actually willing to put in the hard work on the ground a la Tejaswi Yadav in Bihar or Reddy in AP, move away with a new faction.

  9. Why Indians were slaves for thousand years look no further than the congress party workers and leaders.

    Everyone knows the failed leader if you may call a leader.

    Openly these people just say the opposite.

    What is this majboori that none in congress after seeing the reality knowing the reality, yet proclaims enslavement to the Gandhi family.

    We have been voting these people in power for 70 years. Their loyalty is towards a family not nation.

    This is where a reminder is in order India is not Gandhi and Gandhi is not India.

  10. the author has hit the nail on the head. It is a tragedy that a premier political party is held to ransom by a family – more specifically by an individual Mrs. sonia gandhi. i am almost sure that robert vadra and family would take over the party because rahul gandhi with all his faults is still a decent man.

  11. Even more then the Congress it is the author who is in denial, still believing in the Congress and chances of it’s revival. It’s electoral victories, few and far between, are nothing more then what is called a ‘ dead cat bounce’. The party’s mascot was unable to even hold on to Amethi, his family’s constituency, for decades. Other then esoteric ideas like secularism, inclusive politics which the Congress and it’s lackeys tom tom about, without actually practising any of them, there is nothing that the Congress has to offer. With a privileged and entitled dynast, who never had to work for a living, spouting failed leftist and ‘povertarian’ philosophies whilst living the good life himself, there is only so much that the voters can be conned into. And what now sees is the result.

  12. I can’t recall when last I read such an impressive, hard-hitting article against the “Grand Old Party”. I have an issue or two about a point here and there, but that doesn’t come in the way of acknowledging that Ruhi Tewari’s piece is comprehensive in analyzing the malaise. As a BJP supporter/ voter, I can barely hide my glee at the sycophantic moves of the family’s defender – as an Indian, I feel a responsible, progressive opposition party is a must.

  13. Amazing how The Print devotes pages upon pages to “the Gandhis” when there are so many other more important issues.
    Please let these insignificant folk fade away……..

    • Yes , why so many media people wants revival of congress only . People are voting bjp because their is no other credible alternative . Why don’t u waste your time finding that other alternatives ?

  14. POOHI is a CONGRASS journalist.

    She describes BJP’S equal rights for all polarizing.

    She describes 10 years of her party rule which was marred by extensive corruption and a open support to NGO’s involved in conversion as well meaning and inclusive of social fabric . Whose best example is branding of HINDUS as PERPETRATORS of violence.

    She is wasting her time posing as a journalist. Her talent of being in cohorts with fake SECULARISM makes her a perfect candidate for congrass.

  15. I don’t understand. Ruhi Tiwari is a staff writer of The Print. How can her writing be “personal opinion”?

    Coming to the topic, congress is adopting the maxim of Homoeopathic medicine – Similia similibus curantur – If a medicine produces certain symptoms in a healthy person, it will cure disease of same symptoms in a sick person”. Congress is using Gandhis as medicine for the Gandhi ailment of Congress!

  16. Will the author tell us that in the backdrop of 1984 and Shah bano how she concludes that Congress in inclusive and secular

  17. None of the 23 letter writers is capable or willing to take over the leadership of the congress. The congress leadership is protected by the surrounding parasites, the present tussle is between the established ones not willing to go down without a fight. The leadership is smart and knows how to tackle the dependents.

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