The Congress party media head, Rachit Seth, listed the reasons why the BJP could successfully brand the Congress ‘anti-national’. He blamed Rahul Gandhi’s “Left-leaning lieutenants’ for both the Congress’ election manifesto and its misguided reaction to the Pulwama attack. He said that this Left turn cost the party the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The blog was later deleted.
ThePrint asks: Should Rahul Gandhi get rid of Leftist aides or is it still not enough to revive Congress?
High-profile Congress leaders didn’t know what masses wanted — their election statements hurt party
Senior leader, Congress
The Congress is a centrist party – we accommodate viewpoints of both the Left and the Right. As far as the Congress losing the Lok Sabha elections is concerned, the reasons can be multiple. For one, the decision on which candidate should fight in where was taken extremely late; in some places, the candidate wasn’t even aware of his/her candidature. Second, from the booth level to the top, the Congress needs to gear up its organisational structure and make it more robust.
As far as Rachit Seth’s blog is concerned, I agree with him on his position about the manifesto. Diluting the AFSPA or the sedition law were issues that didn’t need to be raised in the manifesto. These are political calls that can be taken depending on the situation in a particular state – on a case to case basis. There was no need for them to be put down in the manifesto. Especially when the BJP was hell-bent on polarising the election, and we don’t enjoy an edge on media and communication quite as they do – why give them a weapon to use against us?
On the post-Pulwama narrative, I don’t think we should have questioned the government at any point. In sensitive issues of national security, we should stick by the government’s side.
It is true that there are certain very high-profile individuals in the party who stayed silent in the last five years, but became very vocal during the elections. They lack an understanding of what the masses want, and their statements during the elections deeply hurt the party.
The cockpit of Congress is populated by dynasts, loyalists and sycophants who project Rahul Gandhi as Santa Claus
National spokesperson, BJP
While this is the Congress’ internal matter, it is also true that the party has consistently targeted the BJP for its own failures.
It is not so much about the Left or the Right, as it is about the Congress’ lack of connect with the people, their aspirations, and where they want to see India headed. The Congress has lost all grassroots connect in most states. Elitism, disregard for the ancient ethos and values of India, arrogance and top-down decision-making in the party have killed the Congress.
Congress leader Sam Pitroda, who spends more time in the United States than in India, was the prime author of the party’s manifesto — unlike the BJP, where the entire manifesto was crowd-sourced. Such is the intellectual bankruptcy of the so-called Grand Old Party.
Rahul Gandhi surrounds himself with family loyalists, many of them corrupt, and not necessarily by the people who are either domain experts or who have sound understanding of ground realities of India. The cockpit of Congress is populated entirely by the dynasts, loyalists and sycophants or darbaris.
They project Rahul Gandhi as a Santa Claus. People of India are not interested in Left or Right — they have moved on beyond such old-fashioned classifications. They want dignity, opportunities and growth.
Rahul Gandhi may be only 50 but his thoughts are old-fashioned, and they belong to the 1960s and 1970s, while India’s 1.30 billion women, men and children have moved on to build a modern and prosperous Republic under PM Modi’s leadership.
Very DNA of Congress party has been populist and not market-oriented
Author and commentator
Rahul Gandhi should surround himself with more balanced advisers who believe in the market, growth and job creation. Focusing on job creation is the only long-term answer to poverty and making India a middle-class country. Jobs give people dignity, the kind of dignity they do not get through either MGNREGA or other such handouts.
I believe this has been a problem with the Congress even when Manmohan Singh was the PM; UPA presided over the golden age of growth in India, and there was a defensiveness among the Left in the Congress party. They were ambivalent about growth, jobs and importance of infrastructure spending. It saddened me that neither he nor his excellent advisors like Montek Singh Ahluwalia could persuade the party in the right direction.
Ultimately, the only way that India can rise is by harvesting the demographic dividend.
There needs to be an emphasis on the ways we can create high-productivity jobs – these can focus on housing and infrastructure. In fact, one of the failures of the Narendra Modi government too was a lack of single-minded focus. They still did quite a lot, but what was needed was conviction, competence and a real day-to-day focus on this issue.
As far as the Congress party is concerned, there very DNA seems to be populist; they have also been pessimistic about export and ambivalent about business and market.
As told to Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint.
A party that tries to be different things to different people will fall in the eyes of the public
Professor, Delhi University
The Congress party was always seen as a pro-poor party with pro-people policies. It is quite debatable whether who grew more under its long rule, whether inequality in the society actually decreased. Under PV Narsimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, the Congress took a different turn. Similarly, it was perceived as a party for the rights of the minorities even when Right-wing Hindu leaders held important positions in the party.
It was when the Congress started wavering from its principles, which were guided by the ‘last person first’ mantra of Gandhi, that its supporters started to leave it. Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims saw that the Congress no longer had the courage or conviction in its pro-people, secular ideas.
I am not sure who form the core team of Rahul Gandhi but a party without a sense of purpose, a party which tries to be different things to different people, falls in the eyes of the public. Secondly, the Congress needs to revive itself as a working organisation, which works round the year, again, pursuing an idea. That alone can bring back the trust of the people to it.
All organisational organs need to work in their own areas and remain in constant conversation with the people. The party should not only be about winning power through elections, it’s should connect with people in significant ways.
Rahul Gandhi should know when you raise issues of fringe groups, you are likely to end up becoming one
Assistant professor at Delhi University and member, BJP
Any long-lasting political victory stands on the foundation of an ideological movement. The Congress party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi carried the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and many Gandhians were part of its politics in post-Independence era. But decades of political splits and dissensions denuded this foundation and by 2006, the advisory council led by Sonia Gandhi was already full of people who were Left-leaning.
In truth, Rahul Gandhi simply followed this pattern and it was not surprising that many of his advisers were old Communists and pushed ideas that suited them. For example, the national vice-president of any mainstream political party will not easily go to JNU to protest the arrest of a student leader charged with raising anti-India slogans. When you raise issues of fringe organisations, you are likely to end up becoming one and that is exactly what Rahul Gandhi’s Congress did in the last few years. At a time when the Lok Sabha elections were taking place in the backdrop of a major terror attack, promising abolition of AFSPA and sedition law becomes an ideological luxury that one cannot afford.
The Rahul Gandhi-led Congress, influenced by Left-leaning organisations, does not represent the value systems that it did half a century ago. While there may be structural and organisational shortcomings in Rahul Gandhi’s Congress, but the real work lies in reinventing its ideological foundation – the only thing that can ensure its survival.
Congress’s shift towards Left isn’t new; even Nehru had ushered in era of mixed socialist economy
The Congress has been ‘the’ party of India’s ruling elites and if it changes its DNA, then while it may or may not win an election, the party will cease to be the Congress.
Taking a shift towards the Left is not a new thing for the Congress. Under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress had ushered in the era of mixed socialist economy, with emphasis of the government sector and non-alignment as the core of foreign policy. There has always been a socialist group within the Congress. Keeping the ruling class character intact, Indira Gandhi nationalised the banks, coal mines and the insurance business, gave the slogan of Garibi Hatao — these were not bad politics.
In my opinion, keeping the ruling class character intact is the key thing for the Congress. It can’t go too far Left in the pursuit of opposing the BJP. If the Congress does so, it will cease to be the Congress.
In its rhetoric and speeches of its leader, especially party president Rahul Gandhi, the Congress should be careful about this. We don’t know if Rahul Gandhi wants to radicalise the Congress and make it a revolutionary party or a radical NGO. If that is not the plan, then the Congress should stick to the basics. As the Hindu upper caste and most of the big corporates have already sided with the BJP, the Congress has very little elbow room. This is one of those times when the leadership capabilities of a leader are going to be tested.
By Fatima Khan and Triya Gulati.