New Delhi: In a damning indictment of the party leadership, Congress’ national spokesperson Sanjay Jha has said the party has become “fossilised, status quoist and reluctant to change”.
Jha also rued the lack of internal democracy in the party, pointing out that the high command didn’t consult spokespersons while banning their participation in TV debates last year.
“The Congress has had a culture of being one of the more internally vibrant and democratic parties. But that is now gathering dust,” Jha said in an exclusive interview to ThePrint. “To the point that today we look very fossilised, status quoist and reluctant to change.”
Jha, who has been a vocal critic of the party’s “high command culture” in the past too, said the Congress has become disconnected from the ground.
“We have moved into a cocooned shell, and withdrawn from gauging the public mood. We sit in Delhi, completely disconnected from the ground,” he added. “This is what has given the party the notorious high command culture.”
He also questioned why the party’s decision-making powers are limited to Delhi.
“Why should everything happen in Delhi? Maharashtra is one of the biggest states in India, but why do we only go there during elections and not otherwise? The country is not Delhi,” Jha said.
The Congress should appear as a party with an alternate vision, which isn’t happening, he added. “At a time when India is facing a health and economic crisis, we need to appear as a party that is a government in waiting. That isn’t happening,” he said.
‘No one consulted spokespersons before TV decision’
Jha said he also laments the “lack of internal democracy” in the party.
“Frankly, there are no (internal) forums. Even if there are, they are very cosmetic in nature,” Jha said.
In May last year, after the Congress suffered a massive loss in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the party stopped sending its spokespersons to TV debates.
Jha said this was a decision taken solely by the ‘high command’. “The decision was taken without consulting a single spokesperson. That’s not how things should be. People need to be consulted, their opinions sought,” he added.
The Congress leader said while there is “no party as centralised as the BJP”, the Congress now seems fragile while criticising it for its anti-democratic measures.
“We look very fragile when we criticise the Modi government, which is very anti-democratic. But someone will turn to us and say — do you have your own house in order? This is why internal consultations are important,” he said.
It was during Indira Gandhi’s time that the decline of the party’s internal democracy began, Jha said. “The real centralisation of power in the party began during Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s time, unlike what it used to be before that,” he said.
I question powerful bodies like CWC: Jha
In a column in the Times of India, Jha said it is ‘the CEO’ who must be held accountable.
“If a publicly listed company has even one bad quarter in corporate earnings, it is subjected to a brutal examination from analysts, with no one spared, particularly the CEO and the board…The Congress, on the other hand, has demonstrated extraordinary lassitude, and its lackadaisical attitude towards its own political obsolescence is baffling, to say the least,” he wrote in the column.
When ThePrint asked Jha if he was referring to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the CEO, he said the party has only done worse since he abdicated the position.
“We have lost Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh since he quit as the party president, I want to ask — who is responsible for it?” Jha questioned, without taking a name.
While Rahul Gandhi officially only submitted his resignation in July last year, he had offered to quit as the party president in May itself, holding himself responsible for the party’s whopping loss in the Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress Working Committee (CWC) had then held a meeting in August, in which it was decided that Sonia Gandhi will be the interim president of the party.
“He took a high moral posture and took responsibility for the second defeat in a row. But even after he quit, the CWC had three months to decide a leader but they couldn’t,” Jha said. “It’s these powerful bodies within the party that I question.”
“It’s been almost a year since the election results. So it’s been a year since the second loss and there is still no clarity on the party leadership,” he added.
‘Can’t defeat BJP with this laid-back approach’
In his column, Jha had also hit out at the party for “waging a social media hashtag tornado”.
The Congress launched its digital campaign #SpeakUpIndia last week, targeting the Modi government for the declining economy during the Covid crisis. Besides this, Rahul Gandhi has been holding video interactions with health experts and economists in the past few weeks discussing how the lockdown can be eased.
On these measures, Jha said: “Anything you do that adds content, and value is a constructive step going forward. But the issue is that the party needs organisational renewal.”
He said the party’s response seems only “tactical and episodic”.
“We are not going to be able to defeat the BJP with such a laid-back and status-quoist approach,” the Congress leader said.
Jha said the party needs to decide on a leader from now to the next elections. “We need to restructure our party, which today is a complex and bureaucratic labyrinth,” he said.