Thursday, December 8, 2022
HomeOpinionThe Congress doesn’t need a president

The Congress doesn’t need a president

Before the Congress can find its Amit Shah, it needs to find its Modi.

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It took Rahul Gandhi 42 days of confusion after the Lok Sabha results to formally resign from the post of the Congress president. Another 38 days later, the Congress is now about to appoint a new president, and Mukul Wasnik is said to be the front-runner.

Rahul Gandhi, having stepped aside, is unhappy with how the party is going about finding the new president. He doesn’t want the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to just hold a meeting and crown the chosen one. He wants due process, or at least the pretence of it. An aide of his has said as much in writing to all the CWC members.

Also read: Congress goes ‘democratic’, will hold state-wise consultations to pick new chief

Set up to fail

A Rahul Gandhi acolyte recently told me what the problem was. What you are seeing, he said, is a continuation of the long-running battle between the old guard and the new guard of the party. Rahul Gandhi wanted Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia to be chief ministers of their states, he alleged, but was vetoed by the old guard. Rahul Gandhi’s point is: why should he be president if he can’t have his way?

Starting with 1969, this leader told me, the Congress party has recovered from its periodic decline only through a split. The only way the Congress party can revive today, he said, is if there is a split. Either the old guard or the new guard could leave. One will succeed and one will fail.

Now, he said, the old guard wanted Rahul Gandhi to nominate a new president. Rahul Gandhi refused because he clearly saw this as a further attempt to tarnish him. Once the new president is considered to have ‘failed’, the old guard will again blame Rahul Gandhi. That the new president will ‘fail’ is almost certain, since there is no chance of the Congress winning any forthcoming state elections before the 2021 Kerala assembly election.

No Marg Darshak Mandal

The old guard led by Ahmed Patel draws its power from Sonia Gandhi, although nobody takes her name. Poor Ahmed Patel gets all the flak. The old guard feels that Rahul Gandhi and his followers are the ones to blame, since their ideas of radical transformation in the party have borne no fruit.

Every political party has had troubles with generational transition. How do they resolve the problem? Let’s look at India’s most successful political party today, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Narendra Modi had his way when he was formally declared as the party’s PM candidate in 2013, walking all over L.K. Advani’s dreams and ambitions. The old guard was relegated to a ‘Marg Darshak Mandal’. Younger leaders of the Vajpayee era were accommodated but made powerless, cardboard figures.

Why was Narendra Modi able to discard his party’s old guard so easily? Why couldn’t they gang up and keep him in check? It’s because Modi drew his power from the masses, particularly the BJP-RSS cadres and the Hindutva supporters. He did not draw his power from the party’s leadership.

Rahul Gandhi could also ride roughshod over the party’s old guard if he was a popular mass leader. But he is so weak that not even his supporters are able to say they’d like to see him as the prime minister. One of the main reasons for Narendra Modi’s re-election is that voters did not want to see Rahul Gandhi as the prime minister.

Also read: Dear Rahul, Congress part of problem India faces. Solution lies outside: Yogendra Yadav

38 days without a party president

Who should be the new Congress president? That is the wrong question to ask. In the absence of a party president in the last 38 days, the Congress has done what it would do if it had a party president. The Indian National Congress was run, is run and will continue to be run by its permanent bureaucracy, headed by Sonia Gandhi and Ahmed Patel. It will continue to waste time in trying to come to a consensus between Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. For instance, a lot of time was wasted in Sonia and Priyanka urging Rahul to not resign. The Congress is, was and will continue to be a car run by many drivers and will continue crashing. Poor Mukul Wasnik.

In the last 38 days, did the Congress party really miss having a president? Had Mukul Wasnik or Sachin Pilot or Priyanka Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi been Congress president these last 38 days, what would have been done differently? The Congress would still have lost Karnataka, it would still have been stumped by Modi’s disintegration of Jammu & Kashmir, it would still have been clueless about how to win forthcoming state assembly elections. Amusingly, the Congress despite not having a president put out releases saying the “Congress President” had appointed Balasaheb Thorat as its new Maharashtra chief, and Srinivas B.V. as the interim president of the Indian Youth Congress.

The wrong question

‘Who should be the Congress president?’ is the wrong question to ask. It is irrelevant for the moment.

The right question to ask is: Who will be the public face of the Congress party? Who will be its de facto PM candidate? Who will be the star campaigner addressing most of its rallies?

What the Congress party really needs is not a new president, but a new public face who can capture the imagination of the masses and present herself or himself as a better alternative to Narendra Modi.

Answering that question will be far tougher than appointing a puppet. Rahul Gandhi is stepping aside from the task of running the party, and not sitting in the front row of the Lok Sabha.

But he’s not going away anywhere. He wants to re-invent himself, a project doomed to fail. Priyanka Gandhi is refusing to step up because she won’t overshadow her brother. She will make episodic noises about UP just as her brother used to. The Congress will thus remain a car with many drivers, crashing again and again until it is fully dismantled.

Also read: Call for young Congress leader to head party: Does age matter or is it just a catchphrase?

Views are personal.

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  1. Consider this…. if the leadership of the Congress Party resides with the family whether it is Rahul or Priyanka or Sonia then another election defeat in 2024 is dead certain.

    Congress members do not have the guts to stand up and say that enough is enough – …. we want a change, a real change where all Gandhi’s are packed off to oblivion and they hand over the keys of the treasury to the new leadership. Until that happens – we the public will keep on making fun of Rahul; we question the business dealings of Priyanka’s husband and last of all will question all the octogenarians which Sonia Gandhi has collected as her advisors.

    One more point – for any of the Gandhi’s to succeed, if they continue then the Chanakya of Congress Party in Ahmed Patel has to be packed off. He mislead Sonia in 2014 and mislead Rahul in 2019.

  2. In 2009 when BJP could not get back the power from  UPA led by Congress, it was same like what Congress looks like today and only difference,  since BJP was in  opposition for many years,  there was no large scale defection from BJP to Congress or other allies of UPA, and neither Congress made any attempt “Operation Haath” like “Operation Kamal” now to get disgruntled leaders from  Congress and other parties.  However, then in 2009 all was not well for BJP, may be it was tactics of  RSS to frustrate the old guards to bring in some one from RSS as they did in 2014 to promote Modi as PM .  During  one such churning process  some time in August 2009,  the senior BJP  leader and Minister in Vajpayee government Arun Shourie went ballistic and went on to say “RSS take over the party and change its top brass lock, stock and barrel.  He went on attack that BJP is “Kati Patang” (kite without string) and called the then BJP President Rajnath Singh as “Alice in Blunderland”.  He further told the reporters Mao Ze Dong had said, “Bombard the headquarters. Clean up everybody from the top.  Bring ten-fifteen people from states who are competent ,honest and dedicated and reconstruct immediately”. Continuing his attack Shourie had this to say “So, you want to be Humpty Dumpty and make words mean what you say and act, then I presume you already have in your mind to act against me or anybody, so act”.  In response the then BJP Spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Ruddy had this to say “”the so-called writers are challenging fighters.  The party is going through a phase of transition and will emerge stronger after such developments”.  He further added that Shourie was making such comments as BJP had nothing to offer him as it was out of power.  This is a bad time for the BJP.  We have nothing to offer him and this is the problem  with admitting people into party who are apolitical. They want to have the cake when you are  in power.  Shourie is a free bird. His nomination to Rajya Sabha is coming to an end.  I am sure he wants action against him. He wants to martyr.  We will make him a martyr” I have reproduced extracts from the report as Congress needs some one like Shourie to talk as the age old party is in the same situation like BJP between 2004-2014.  For Congress it doesn’t have RSS parivar instead they only have Gandhi parivar. Congress cannot allow the power hungry leaders to take party and Nehru-Gandh for granted.  Time has now come for Congress  to offer Voluntary Separation Scheme for those who want cling with party only when it is in power and not otherwise.  It is time to bring in new faces and groom them as future leaders for them survive celebrate 150th anniversary.

  3. Yes … Congress no longer needs a President, as it has outlived it’s life and lost the dynamism. The author is also correct in observing that nothing would have happened differently, even if a President would have been at the Party. Everybody feels Rahul wanted Scindhia and Pilot to become Chief Ministers of their respective states. But when time came Rahul just was seen lacking the courage and guts to take risks. Years before, Rahul’s Grand Mother took the stand of supporting V V Giri as Presidential candidate deserting the official nominee of the party, went ahead with it causing vertical split in the Congress. A huge risk altogether! And as the destiny would have it – her Congress became real Congress, the others just diminished in the garbage of history. This was her dynamism and the capacity to take enormous risk – a basic tenet of leadership! Rahul was the Congress President, fully authorised to put his people where he wanted – he did not! After all, he had led the party to victory in those states! This only showed he is incapable of taking his own decisions and vulnerable to succumb to pressures which is just unbecoming of a true leader. After all, what would have happened if Rahul would have gone ahead making Scindhia and Pilot Chief Ministers – absolutely nothing ! It would have indicated that days of oldies have gone in the Congress and a new Dawn had come and it would have made a great difference! But he missed and was seen to be failing his own people.
    There are no Modis and Amit Shahs in Congress. There can not be. Long back Congress lost its capacity to make and nourish good leaders – for Rahul’s Grand Mother only had already made the party a Family Enterprise. The party has lost all the life and dynamism. Rahul tore off a govt notification in a press meet. The Vice President of the party tearing up a govt notification – either the Govt would have gone or Rahul taken to task. Nothing happened. Neither the Party nor it’s Govt showed any sign of life – no response, no reaction at all! Compare this with Advani’s Jinna statement – he just went off the show ! Completely notwithstanding his numero uno position in the party. There is no comparison between Congress and BJP. Congress’ first bench is occupied either by oldies or the sons of erstwhile leaders of the Party – no such scene in BJP. Joining RSS, Modi never would’ve dreamt of becoming Prime Minister one day – but Rahul joined Congress dreaming become Prime Minister! The same is true of Amit Shah too. He too is a self made politician – the party only providing a platform and nourishing the skills. Congress, unfortunately, resembles more with Lalu’s RJD or Mulayam’s SP or Karunanidhi’s DMK (there too, of course, Lalu ji or Mulayam ji or Karnanidhi ji were self made leaders) – in so far it depends on dynasty and dynasty only. No where it is comparable to parties like BJP or the leftists, where leaders emerge from the cadre only.
    Congress has adopted a habit of going back to the Great Family again and again over a generation now. Neither the party can live without the Family nor the Family can live without the party. Both exist dependent on each other and both with live and diminish together. Too much time taken by the Congress in finding a successor of Rahul only indicates the dilemma of giving the sufficient time to the Family to reconcile and come back. There appears to be serious differences among the Family members – hence the delay. They will reconcile and eventually come back. This is just a big farce to say that the Family would be keeping itself aloof of the process to find the Great Successor. Had this been really the spirit, even Sonia ji and Priyanka ji would have resigned from their positions and leave CWC to take the call without prejudice.
    Country is perhaps uselessly discussing a family feud publicly. Let us leave the family alone to take care of it’s affairs!
    For Congress does not appears to be worried about it’s role towards the nation. A robust and constructive opposition as at present and a govt in waiting. What Congress should be seen to be doing is to conserve it’s cadre, increase it’s membership, strengthen it wings that of youth and mahila Congress, train it’s cadre and consolidate it’s base. The leadership is, of course, an issue and a true leadership is very well needed away ahead. As of now it would be right to shed it’s ruling misadventure for the time being. For power in a democracy just comes in way – it is not to be grabbed by any means. The cadre and leadership should be aware of the given Political realities and should be satisfied of it’s role of a dynamic opposition, which is not a mean task. Being deprived of the power by the public is to be accepted with Grace and Respect – for it is not rejection by the public, it is just assignment of a different role by the electorates . Otherwise why leaders like Madhu Limaye or George or Indrajeet Gupta were being elected election after election? People did know that they were not going to form a govt – they were never telling the people so. Why even BJP leaders were getting elected all these long years for remaining in opposition only?
    Therefore, it is only prudent that political parties should never feel ‘rejected’ by people, they should only feel their roles are being changed – from being the rulers to being the guards. Both the ways are the great service for the nation.
    As democracy of the country gets matured day by day, political parties are to get accustomed to the changing roles. Like all the great democracies of the world, India too is going ahead with having robust Political parties. Days of uni party system and dynasties are getting over and era of alternative good govts are at the dawn.
    The vital question remains – whether our political system develops the political climate of having responsive political parties to meet the political needs of the future!

  4. The country doesn’t need congress party. BJP has embraced socialism to cover the left. Capitalist party is all that is needed.

  5. @ Shivam Vij,
    Just wanted to add my bit about how the current PM was able to retire old guard.
    As you wrote, he had mass/popular support among party workers. He “earned” that support by providing better governance and implementing required policies ie. perform and then support will follow.
    Based on your article, it seems like RG is trying to do the same. Put Congress on better footing by creating a mechanism that rewards leaders who perform eg, Scindia and Pilot. But is hampered by the current old guard who has built a legacy vote bank by using caste, zamindari, nepotism, etc.
    And your suggestion is basically Congress goes back to doing the same thing it always does, find a popular leader (based on name, inherited legacy, etc.). I think you are still looking towards the past instead of the future. The public perception, at least in middle-to-lower-middle classes, has changed. People now look for performance history and governing experience. Maybe this is the reason PGV is trying to earn her credentials by working in UP instead of vying to be party president.
    So, I think the conclusion of your article is quite unfair. Congress does need to develop a mechanism where new generation leaders with popular support and better CV are in-charge than let’s say, a 92 yr old Vora who’s time is limited on this planet. These new leaders will have to perform or perish. They will get the support of their party workers and the electorate if they perform. And then parallels with success trajectory of current PM will be applicable.

  6. I wish Khangress a long life, a long wretched life, since, in 60 years, they made India into a poor, wretched country while looting the country’s money.

  7. Dear Print editorial team:
    This comment is not directly related to this column.

    Even though Shekar Gupta and Jyoti Malhotra have strong anti Modi prejudice, you publish diverse view points and should be congratulated. Lately you have shed anti Modi prejudice temporarily and pointed out the merits in scrapping 370. You are going to explode in readership.

    Do you really need Shivam Vij to be in your team? Please consider. He is more suitable for newspapers like the anti-Indian Express and the anti Hindu.

  8. What the Congress party needs is to rediscover its voice, rationale, convictions, testosterone. Never mind if the wind is not in its sails, the tide has a lot more to ebb before it begins to flow. The National Conference has moved the Supreme Court today, challenging the abrogation of Article 370. It is being called Nehruji’s historic blunder. Leave aside for a moment Sardar Patel’s contribution to this provision. For seventy years, Congress governments / or when the party was in the Opposition have stood by this foundational principle which governs the relationship between India and Kashmir. It has never been part of the Congress manifesto that this provision needs to go. So why does the party’s handle tremble with Parkinson’s to have filed this legal challenge. If the mood is purple, the Congress, NC and the PDP ought to have filed it jointly. The worst that could happen is that the apex court would finally reject the petition, uphold the Abrogation. No harm. At least the Congress would say, These are the things that we believe in, from the bottom of our hearts. This is our Idea of India. Maybe it seems a little dated, but we are an old fashioned party. We believe in things like secularism, tolerance, federalism. We are not abandoning Gandhiji and Nehruji and Sardar Patel was very much our leader.

    • Well put !
      But, I think everyone misses one point on 370. Previous governments have been slowly eroding 370. Gradually and Incrementally., 1954, 1960 etc.

  9. I like the American / British system. No beating about the bush. Serious candidates say, I want to be President / PM. Fight first to get their party’s nomination, then go the people, to win the election. That is what Candidate Modi did in September 2013. Ab ki baar, Modi Sarkar. Rajnath Singhji tried for “ BJP Sarkar ‘ but was overruled in hours. None of this humbug about newly elected legislators – many of them lamp posts – meeting after the election to make the choice. So the Congress should think if Mukul Wasnik as prime ministerial candidate can bring them to power. At the moment, the Congress party’s best hope is to wait for serious anti incumbency to build up.

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