The now predictable, and frankly boring, battle between the Congress’ ‘old guard’ and ‘new guard’ has appeared once again. It’s an oft-repeated aspect about the Congress that its main leaders such as Digvijaya Singh, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Shashi Tharoor, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Rajiv Satav and K.C. Venugopal among others are always locked in a battle. It’s a false, misleading and simplistic construct. Unfortunately for the Congress, this isn’t an old-versus-new guard issue — it is about one failed guard versus another.
But it isn’t just the fault of the leaders from the older generation that the Congress is an absolute and undeniable mess right now. The ‘young guard’ has done more than its bit to ensure that too.
If it was just about the younger lot of the party vying for space with the older leaders and yearning for a generational shift, it wouldn’t be as bad a crisis for the Congress. After all, at some point, the seniors will have to pave the way. But what makes it a free fall for the party is that it seems to have no rescue mission in sight — all its camps are busy fighting, proving themselves to be as useless as one another.
Last week, at a meeting convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Satav — known to be close to Rahul Gandhi and identified as part of the ‘young guard’ — took on his senior colleagues when he asked the UPA-2 era ministers to introspect why the party was reduced to a mere 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
This came in response to former Union Ministers Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram calling for introspection on the 2019 Lok Sabha election defeat. Satav, however, later did a quick U-turn in true Congress style, and termed UPA-2 as a “people’s government”.
Knives, scratch that, swords may be out in the Congress once again, but truth be told, both sides are right, and yet, both are wrong.
The older, failed lot
It wasn’t an easy task for the Congress to defend itself in 2014. There is no polite way to say this — the Manmohan Singh government in its second term was an unmitigated disaster.
From numerous allegations of scams and corruption to policy paralysis, a failing economy, constant intra-government tussles, arrogant ministers, terrible perception management and the impression of two power centres in the form of the Prime Minister’s Office (led by Manmohan Singh) and 10 Janpath (under Sonia Gandhi) — everything that could go wrong with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in its second avatar, did.
UPA-1, on the other hand, brought in path-breaking and electorally useful initiatives (like them or not), including the rural job guarantee scheme and the Right to Information (RTI) Act. It also showed courage to stand up to the bullying Left Front and sign the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement. UPA-2, however, ended up undoing all the gains of the earlier term.
Rajiv Satav, therefore, isn’t entirely wrong. His seniors failed the Congress. It is, after all, no mean feat to bring down a party to its most humiliating seat tally ever. The likes of Chidambaram and Sibal, who called for introspection on the 2019 loss, as well as those like Manish Tewari, Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor, who joined the ranks later, should look within to know how the Congress’ free fall was precipitated by the very government they were stakeholders in.
And it’s not like this ‘old guard’ is giving up even now. Churlish and foolish in their approach, the senior leaders continue to lock horns with their juniors in the most juvenile ways. Not to forget the brazen power games that leaders such as Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh and Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan have played.
What is it that today’s young Congress leaders can show to the people as claims of UPA’s achievements? What is it that they can build upon? At the same time, significant energy is lost in trying to distract from the mishap that UPA-2 was.
But there is a reason why Satav is wrong, and his seniors right too.
The younger, equally failed lot
The year 2014 may have been out of the Congress’ control. In trying to hide from the failures of the outgoing dispensation and fight a rising, powerful Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the young Congress leaders had little chance.
But did the younger lot do anything in the five years to give the Congress any fighting chance in the 2019 Lok Sabha election? No. The party’s tally went up to an equally embarrassing 52, and Rahul Gandhi as well as his coterie reaffirmed their positions in the meme world.
The younger leaders have either been busy fighting turf wars, sulking, allowing ambition to overtake long-term vision, or simply distancing themselves from everyday, grassroots politics. Leading charge of the young brigade is Rahul Gandhi, who has established himself as a disconnected, entitled, and an unsuitable politician.
If even an iota of work in the right direction had been done by Satav and company, 2019 would have been less of a humiliation for the Congress. Narendra Modi would have won, yes. But the Congress wouldn’t have cut such a sorry picture yet again.
Little signs of revival
The last one year of Modi 2.0 has barely been any better for the Congress, with its junior lot doing precious little to get its act together. Most of the leaders, whether from political dynasties or not, are much like their seniors — entitled, self-righteous, and unable to grasp the altered political dynamics in ‘New India’.
The Congress has been busy fighting the Congress for the last several years. But it has couched this battle as one between a restless young generation and an older one unwilling to let go.
The truth, however, is that every camp fighting in the party is a failure in one way or another. Young or old, all its leaders have failed the Congress. India’s oldest political party should feel sorry, very sorry for itself, because in the battles that are played within its fold, there are only losers.
Views are personal.