Home Opinion What the Congress party needs is a palace coup

What the Congress party needs is a palace coup

A Congress leader who rises to power by overthrowing the old guard will capture public imagination just as a certain BJP leader did in 2013.

Nitin Pai
A file photo of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

One of the most important purposes of opinion writing is to hold those in power accountable through criticism of their policies and actions. Although, as academician Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues that “your credibility as a critic lies on the presumption of praise, when it is called for”, it is usually superfluous to praise the government because it is usually in a good position to do that job itself. Your puny whistle won’t make a difference to the orchestra of trumpets that the government commands.

Opinion writers are often asked why they don’t criticise the opposition as much as they criticise the government. While many columnists do indeed have ideological and partisan biases, it is not the most productive use of time to criticise parties and politicians who are not in power. What they say does not affect people’s lives until they win elections, come to office, and are in a position to do something. Of course, this does not prevent many of our brave television anchors who valiantly hold powerless opposition figures to account, while studiously ignoring those from the ruling party. They bask in the warm glory of kicking a person when he is down.

Also read: Modi-Shah led BJP already preparing for 2024, while Congress still reels from 2014

Congress indictment is necessary

In normal circumstances it would have been pointless or craven to criticise the Indian National Congress when it is in the opposition. But at a time when the BJP enjoys unprecedented political dominance and massive popular support, when constitutional institutions and norms are crumbling, the national interest requires a credible opposition. While the government of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has received severe criticism for its policies, the Congress has largely been excused for its failure to effectively hold the end of opposition. Too many people are too understanding and too forgiving of its internal problems and leadership woes. Yet, to prevent a “Congress-mukt Bharat”, it is necessary to severely indict it for its failings and compel the grand old party to get its act together. And you don’t have to be a supporter of the Congress party to want an effective opposition in Parliament.

My indictment of the Congress is threefold: most of its leaders do not know what they stand for, its organisation is hopelessly out of date, and — quite obviously — it lacks the quality of top leadership that the situation demands.

There is space for Congress

Just as power abhors a vacuum, politics abhors a monopoly. Human nature and democratic structure suggest that there is a space for credible counter-point to the BJP. But few Congress leaders seem to know what that space entails. Given the absence of a motive, coherent party ideology, all that Congress leaders seem to want to do is acquire power for the sake of its spoils. We saw the bewildering situation in Karnataka last year when Congress leaders were destabilising a fragile coalition government of which they were a part, in one of the only big states their party was in power, while facing a massive BJP juggernaut.

Why would people vote for the Congress when its leaders are going to be more interested in ministerships than in governance? Instead of fighting for the soul and structure of India, the Congress sometimes projects itself as a pseudo-BJP; at other times, it convinces itself that clever caste-combinations and freebies will do the trick. Despite being the party that gave us the economic reforms that created two decades of prosperity and pulled 300 million people out of poverty, many of its leaders and supporters criticise markets and capitalism.

Also read: Media-bashing as a political strategy works for Modi. The opposition could use it too

The ultimate step

While Amit Shah has exploited technology and built processes and transformed the BJP into a 21st century political party, the Congress remains in a previous era. Its supporters will cite the reorganisation of the Youth Congress, better use of social media and data analytics, but also complain in the same breath that “the old guard is the problem”. The Congress does not have a functional party organisation anymore – it only has a last-minute rush with money as the only means to mobilise opportunistic workers a few weeks before elections. A national election is as much a contest between organisational effectiveness as it is about ideologies, personalities and policies. To be able to challenge the BJP, the Congress must recreate itself organisationally to match or counter it.

Finally, the leader the Congress needs is not the one it will want. While some of its younger leaders have indeed turned into mass leaders in their own right, what the party needs is a palace coup. A leader who rises to power by overthrowing the old guard will capture public imagination just as a certain BJP leader did in 2013. The BJP has turned many parts of the Congress legacy into a debilitating political liability. That’s why the New Congress leadership that comes to power in spite of the Old Congress will enjoy public credibility. It might then be able to sharpen what the Congress stands for, rebuild the party organisation, and pose a real challenge to the BJP.

Also read: Supine opposition helps Modi ignore global human rights concerns on Kashmir & Assam

The author is the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy. Views are personal.

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  1. Best way for congress to find it’s mojo is to break up again as old guard and new guard. This has been the trend in congress. Sonia represents the old guard. It’s upto Rahul and Priyanka whether they want to carry the old baggage of corrupt leaders who can’t even get themselves elected but prefer to be in RS. Or chart a totally hew way of running the party. Indira did it in 1967 and many thought she would fail but she proved her critics wrong. Do Rahul or Priyanka have Same guts as indira. Worth trying, better than slow death they are going through now as a party.

  2. Come elections, modiji becomes an ordinary karyakarta of this great Hindu Renaissance movement, BJP, which is trying to restore the glory of Hindustan . He works day and night to ensure success of all NDA candidates. Some tines he wins, sometimes he loses. He has never claimed credit for himself. He has always been a team nan. Modiji is already 68. He will definitely not cling to power like others. He is grooming enough leaders to take over from him. That’s his greatness. Pity some people are blind to truth.

  3. Majoritarianism calls such cat calls anti national, traitor, go to pakistan. RSS boss wants more shouts from 3 corners of India. Abhi Mukt nahi hua hai!!

  4. The Congress party must first come out of its shell soaked approach towards the PM Narendra Modi. Mind you, cursing him day in and day out for whatever he does or does not do, tantamount to scoring a self goal. Most importantly, this party’s top brass including Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka should carry out some serious soul searching and self introspection if they wish to make a come back at the nation’s political horizon in near future. Truly speaking, Rahul Gandhi should urgently undergo some crash course for learning the intricacies of the politics and also try to attain political maturity. How long will he continue to behave in a critically novice manner while speaking from any public platform? One wishes that this party also stops seeing red (over various acts of thr govt) unless there are some valid reasons to do so.

  5. BJP has toiled very hard to get where it is today. This is because of incorruptible nature of Vajpayee, Advani, MM Joshi, Modi and others. RSS with its self discipline and hard working nature and noncompromising on its ideology and a definite aim to achieve it’s political ideology has yielded fruits. It is the missionary zeal of BJP workers that has resulted in their victory. It is immaterial whether Congress is with or without dynasty. If any opposition wants to dislodge the present government, it is possible only by its leaders integrity, zero tolerance on corruption, connection with people on social issues , economic inequality issues and a true nationalist. If at all there is change in government it may only happen after 2030. Opposition has to really work hard for this change. Short cuts will not last long.

  6. The only way congress’s life can come back, is, when bjp give a helping hand to raise again, and only by bjp. For that Modi-shah team would want nehru-gandhi mukt congress. They know congress mukt bharat may not be a reality. That’s where a coup is necessary! BJP is playing the same ploy with congress, which they are playing on Pakistan. They will succeed in that. They consider Gandhis are not our natives and cannot be a part of our culture or tradition Congress will have little resistance from BJP or RSS, with our natives at helm with gandhis totally away from party

    • I agree with your analysis. In fact I think BJP has been successful in convincing a large percentage of electorate that the present TRIO in Gandhi family are NOT truly Indians, which isn’t untrue.

  7. I would take issue with Pai’s comments about opinion writers. Opinion writers need to express other perspectives and then they can explain what they agree with or disagree with. Instead, opinion writers are out to change the world; in their zeal, they suppress alternative ideas entirely. It is also the job of editors to challenge unsupported or shoddy broad claims made by opinion writers and to prevent the misleading use of statistics. Finally, many opinion writers (as an example, somebody like Bhanu Pratap Mehta, once a respected figure) turn into opposition figures instead of independent thinkers. It is perfectly acceptable for politicians to push just their political agenda. However, it is best for opinion writers (who are not politicians) to express their opinions while showing respect for other perspectives.

  8. All this unsolicited advice from the likes of the author, proves one thing. They just don’t get it. Maybe these are the effects of living in pampered echo chambers, where sunlight seldom got through. Suddenly being exposed to it most have got disoriented.





  10. Mr. Mehta’s argument that , since the government has a trumpet, it makes no sense to blow puny whistle, might be construed as justification for a pathological hatred for a person or his ideology. Modi may have done a lot of bad things as perceived by intellectuals, but he must have done some good things as well, and to equate them as puny whistle is an insult to not so intellectuals who voted him in, or a justification for not recognising them out of a bias.
    Our job is to ask question, is the mindset of opposition and opinion makers. Most the question are aimed at humiliating, knowing fully well that there have been no answers for such question over decades. Asking a question without an answer or a suggestion, is not the same as pointing out an issue. If something is wrong suggest a specific way to correct it, that is an intellectually constructive criticism. Otherwise it is just a verbal abuse because one has a good language.
    We are not used to having a PM with with impeccable personal clean image. It will take time for the critics to digest that, before they turn the puny whistles into trumpets. There are surly a lot of piggybackers on PM’s image but unlike in the past he has demonstrated the ability to keep them in check.
    Unless the opposition realises that there is premium on honesty , they can keep justifying the defeat with all reasons like cast, religion etc., The fact is the opposition is poor but their leaders are rich and they will invest those riches only if they can get richer.

  11. Have often wondered about the nature of the glue that keeps the party together. One, they control the resources of the party, although they seem singularly frugal in using them on a rainy day. Second, most likely reams and reams of information on everyone of note, friend and foe alike. That is an old Indian tradition, dating back to the Raj. 2. A palace coup may not be required. The lack of caliber is showing up. The Congress – like Shri Sharad Pawar – is not designed to be out of power for long spells.

  12. Pai gets many things right, but flounders at the crucial step.
    He advocates palace coup in Congress as a remedy to what ails it just as happen to BJP in 2013. He gets it wrong because BJP never had a palace in the sense that Congress has had for a long time.
    Easier solution was what had suggested to Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter handle when he chose to resign as Congress President that he should hold free fierce and no-holds-barred elections to the Congress from Grass root level upwards and till the president of Congress is chosen.
    Then and only then he should have handed over the reins of the party to the truly democratically elected president capable of fighting the ruling party on the streets


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