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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 41, New Delhi, Sept 25, 2021

Congress passing through a blind alley | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 25 September 2021


by Arun Srivastava

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s latest experiment with the politics has been installing Charanjit Singh Channi, the dalit face of the party as the chief minister of Punjab replacing Amrinder Singh who led the party through many upheavals.

Channi has 4 months at his disposal to revive governance and motivate the faction-ridden party with ambitious leaders. Surprisingly it took four years and eights months for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to realise that Amarinder is disconnected with the electorate and legislators, that governance in Punjab is a failure, and that Dalits may need to be empowered by offering high public office.

Removing Amarinder is the internal matter of the Congress, certainly not discretion, but any political action must have rationale. If BJP can replace its chief ministers just ahead of the assembly elections, why can’t Congress do; this is the catchphrase put forward in public domain to rationalise the leadership’s action to remove Amrinder Singh from the office.

The Congress is already in shambles and has been consistently losing ground across the country. In this backdrop the move to remove the person who had endured the onslaught of Narendra Modi and Akali Dal and ensured the victory of the Congress is not quite intriguing but is like committing hara-kiri.

Undeniably this is classic case of obliviousness and detachment from the ground reality. What has really come as a shock is the leadership preferring to subscribe to the allegation of Sidhu against Captain. Sources confide that Sidhu had alleged that Captain was not sympathetic to the agitating farmers. To substantiate his charge he cited filing of two FIRs against them as the proof.

Nonetheless the prick of Zora Singh Nasrali, president of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, has got worth; “It is merely an election stunt. Channi is a Dalit as well as a Sikh. Punjab will go to the polls in another four-five months and code of conduct will be imposed 40 days before the elections. So what can the new face do? He will just say I am a new person, trying to understand things”.

There is no doubt the strongest bastion of the Congress has crumbled under the pressure of the fanciful desires of the leadership. The move came a day after the NCP chief Sharad Pawar teased that the Congress is like an impoverished landlord who cannot look after his house anymore and its leaders are very "sensitive" and not open to any suggestions. How far the sacking exercise will bolster the electoral prospect of the Congress is not yet clear but one thing is certain that this has exposed the impulsiveness of the leadership.

The Punjab development simply reinforces the belief that Rahul is determined to rely on young faces irrespective of its disastrous consequences. But it is a fact that his young friends nurse more lust for power and material gains than the old satraps. The young faces handpicked by him have deserted the party in search for greener pastures.

Sonia Gandhi is also striving to induct Kanhaiya Kumar and Prashant Kishor in the Congress. Prashant is a celebrated strategist and Kanhaiya a versatile orator. But the primary question is whether the party could efficiently use them. In 2017 Prashant had tried to help the party, but he met with stiff resistance from the state leaders of UP. The situation persists. The UP leaders are islands. They have their own perceptions and notions.

Any strategy or tactics ought to be implemented by the cadres at the ground level. Irony with Congress is there are no cadres, everyone is leader and they are reluctant to carry out the directives from anyone other than Gandhis. In the 2017 UP assembly elections, the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance had failed. The leaders ignored the suggestions of Prashant.

Even before Prashant and Kanhaiya start their innings, many leaders have already conveyed their displeasure to Sonia. If sources are to be relied Rahul too is not comfortable with Prashant. It is said Prashant would find it difficult to adapt to the working culture of the party. Prashant has already pointed to the trust deficit; "Congress is a 100-year-old party and they have their ways of functioning. They won’t be open to working with my style of functioning. Congress must realise that it has a problem and then do something about it".

Coming to Kanhaiya, the Congress leaders have anathema for him. He is likely to be entrusted with the task to revive the dying Bihar Congress. In the Bihar assembly election he was one of the star speakers. But Congress leaders were cold towards him and even did not invite him to their constituencies. CPI leader has met Rahul ostensibly to prepare the ground for his entry into the Congress, which has suffered desertion by many young leaders in the past two years. He has already become the victim of internal contradiction prevailing in the Congress. Some leaders nurse euphemism that their initiation would change the basic character of the party.

There is no denying that Rahul is not the person of organisation. He would not have resigned as the president, if he had assimilated with the organisation. He owes his political survival to the tweets which no doubt embarrass Narendra Modi. But his tweets in no way add strength to the party. His tweets even do not pose serious challenge to Modi. His tweets also do not enthuse the rank and file.

He and his party comrades are angry with the Trinmool Congress leaders for their remark that Rahul Gandhi has failed to take on the BJP. The TMC leaders could not be faulted for this. Right from political workers to intellectuals, academics and social activists, everyone has been urging Rahul to organise the Congress and activate it to take Modi head on. Instead he preferred to keep confined to writing tweets and issuing some stray statements. Let Rahul come out and clarify what substantial he has done to rejuvenate the party in Hindi heart land which controls the political system and institution of India.

The Congress accused the Trinamool leaders of undermining the leadership of the grand old party and said its attack on Rahul Gandhi was "unwarranted and in poor taste". Nevertheless the fact remains that Rahul has failed to emerge as the potential challenger to Modi. It is Mamata who after the Bengal assembly has catapulted as the contender. She even took the first step in the direction to consolidate her position by organising the meeting of the opposition leaders.

Paradoxically Rahul who has been maintaining an evasive posture on the issue of organising the opposition, convened as meeting of 17 opposition MPs. His move unfortunately was perceived as a counter to Mamata. Since then Rahul has not convened any meeting of the opposition.

None can deny that Congress should play a major and significant role in forging unity of the opposition. Nonetheless it is the passive attitude of the party that has been causing much consternation. The opposition nurses the feeling that Congress is not willing to give space to other leaders. Incongruous indeed, Rahul is incapable to lead. In this backdrop the observation of the NCP, spokesperson Nawab Malik, “why were leaders quitting the grand old party and winning state elections on their own” is worth paying serious attention. Question also arises why the Congress is not playing a proactive role for uniting the opposition parties against the BJP.

Pawar had also said, "There was a time when the Congress had presence from Kashmir to Kany akumari...we agree. But that is not the situation now.A Zamindar (landlord) in Uttar Pradesh once owned huge tracts of land and a Haveli (mansion). Then he lost most of the land....the Haveli stands but he can’t repair it...he says all that land belonged to me, but it is in the past" .

Pawar said “There was a time when there was Congress from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. But not so anymore. This (reality) should be accepted. The closeness (with other opposition parties) will increase once there is a mentality (within Congress) to accept this (fact). About Congress insistence that Rahul Gandhi leads the Opposition, he cited an anecdote about ‘zamindars’. “I had told a story about Uttar Pradesh zamindars who used to have huge land parcels and big havelis. Due to land ceiling legislation, their lands shrunk. The havelis remain but there is no capability to manage”

Pawar joked; “Their agricultural income is also not (as much) as earlier. From a few thousand acres, their land has shrunk down to 15 or 20 acres. When the zamindar wakes up in the morning, he looks at the surrounding green fields and says all that land belongs to him. It was his once but doesn’t belong to him now”.

leadership vacuum at the top is hurting Congress even in strongholds, may weaken fightback of national Opposition. A rudderless Congress is bad for itself, and it is also likely to hurt the prospects of the Opposition, which seems to sense an opening in the government’s management of the pandemic.

It would not an exaggeration to say that the opposition has let down the people of the country. They are ready to rise and protest. But they do not find a challenger to Modi. Sad enough the Congress is waiting for the tide to start.

Rahul must connect the Congress with the aspirations and expectations of the common people, as Mamata has succeeded in doing in her state. Bengal election proved to be the waterloo for the BJP as she connected with the people notwithstanding severe suppression let lose by the Modi government and the BJP.

Just after Sonia held the meeting of the leaders of the 19 opposition parties, Rahul too convened a meeting of 16 opposition MPs. Rahul’s meeting subjectively failed to serve any opposition interest. It was primarily aimed at countering the claim of Mamata that she was the opposition face against Modi and to stake his own clam that by virtue of being a Congress leader he was the natural claimant to the leader’s job.

On her part Mamata has been interacting with all the opposition forces and parties. She even had invited the farmers’ leader to campaign for her party. But Rahul did not show such empathy. In fact at one stage Pawar had mentioned that the present situation in India is “very disappointing”. He observed; “The farmers have been agitating for many months. It is a painful picture in a democratic country like India. Economic slowdown, Covid pandemic, unemployment, border tension, issues of minorities… The country is faced with many issues. And the present government has failed to resolve all these issues… those who believe in democracy and secularism… those people who want to work unitedly to protect our country’s democratic values… all of them should come together”. He said it was time for the parties to draw up a programme collectively in a time-bound manner. He said the parties should prioritise issues rather than taking up all issues in one go.

Rahul ought to realise that Gandhi-Godse relation is the old story and it would not have any impact on the bhakts and urban middle class who are his devout. Rahul must correlate with economic issues and try to build a nationwide movement. Simply hurling jibes and accusing Modi of selling India will have no effect on the people. Unless he reaches out and involves the people, he must not expect to rejuvenate the Congress.

The claim that Rahul Gandhi and the Congress Party are fighting a bigger battle of saving democracy, protecting the Constitution and our national ethos that are under attack from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP-RSS, do not hold ground. Modi continues to trample the democratic ethos of the country.

There is no need for the Congress leaders to interpret TMC suggestion as Rahul’s criticism. They have narrated the bare fact. Everyone agrees to the fact that opposition unity cannot be built by undermining the leadership of other parties, including the Congress Party. But it does not mean that the other opposition leaders should cede their right to criticise Congress.

Rahul Gandhi might not have to face this criticism if he had taken proactive role in organising the Congress and turn into a platform to fight the misrule of Modi. He ought to have realised why the BJP-RSS and even Modi do not take him seriously. Why they ignore his tweets and statements notwithstanding the fact that Rahul speaks rationale. The only reason for their neglecting Rahul is they are sure that he will not succeed even in motivating his leaders forget about the rank and file.

Congress leadership must undertake a proactive role. Mere tweeting will not serve. It must evolve a new agenda and strategy. Hindutva versus economic issues are going to be the dominant narrative in the ensuing elections in Uttar Pradesh and in 2024 Lok Sabha. Congress must channelize the anger of the people.

The Congress is not like cadre based BJP or the CPI(M). It is also not a rightist or leftist conglomerate. All shades of political thoughts find a place in the Congress. This is reason that Congress has a centrist and liberal character. It has no definite ideology. It swears by Gandhism and Nehruvian thought.

It is beyond comprehension that at a time when the country is facing acute economic crisis, crores of labourers are losing jobs and politics of hatred rules the lives of the common man, Rahul Gandhi has been content with simply writing tweets. Congress leadership is not seen making any effort to put the organisation in order in any of the states. The workers are desperately looking for guidance. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is an art that has been perfected by the Congress.

Though internal surveys carried out by the BJP-RSS shows the saffron in extremely precarious situation, they are not worried at all. The leadership is confident that with the cadre network, the Hindutva and nationalist ideology will help the party to win the election. In Uttar Pradesh despite having complaints against the Yogi Adityanath government, the people were not ready to bring the Congress or Samajwadi Party.

Priyanka Gandhi has been active in UttarPradesh for nearly a decade. But the fact remains that she has not succeeded in winning over the trust of the Brahmins or the Dalits, the old support base of the party. In Bihar the upper caste and Dalits are reluctant to repose their faith in the party. While the upper caste, Bhumihar the traditional and Kayasthas, the traditional support base of Congress continue to identify with the BJP, the Dalits have switched over to the CPI(ML)or RJD. In MP the leadership let down the state leaders. They are in trans.

It is sad that baring a few, most of the G-23 leaders have no proper interaction channel with Rahul. Senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily on Sunday said that reform of the party was already underway under Sonia Gandhi. But the fact is it is not visible. If the party was undergoing reforms then why the initiative of Sonia Gandhi failed to instil trust in the younger leaders; why they are deserting the party.

During the Modi’s rule the worst sufferers have been Muslims, but the Congress instead of identifying itself with them, has preferred to render lip service. The Congress nurses the utopian notion that the upper caste would desert BJP and rally behind it. The Congress and other so-called secularists, has never been fully comfortable with Muslim presence. Taking advantage of this sense of inertia, the BJP-RSS has succeeded in creating Islamophobia, an intense dislike or fear of Islam or prejudice towards Muslims. It captures the anxieties of the middle-class.

Significantly Muslims have been changing keeping in conformity to the realities, but the political system and structure has not identified itself with their aspirations. The participation of Muslim communities in political processes is still of the nature of vote-bank politics, while their social life is always seen as a symbol of backwardness. In sharp contrast to the all India phenomenon, the TMC has been encouraging them to participate in the political process.

Bihar’s assembly election is classical illustration of this feature of Muslim politicophobia. Asaduddin Qwaisi’s Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), won five Muslim dominated constituencies in Seemanchal region. Qwaisi tries to present it as Islamic response to BJP’s Hindutva. But the general perception is it has been working as the B-team of BJP. It helped BJP to win Bihar assembly election. It is assumed that Muslims are fully conscious and informed of their collective right and hence always take politically motivated decisions. At the provocations of the BJP-RSS combine every aspect of Muslim social life is seen through the prism of global jihadi politics. Unfortunately no left or secular or even the Congress has come forward to challenge this type of politics. The Congress did not strongly protest the recent abbajan quip of UP chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. It is really shocking to witness that secular leaders, including the left and Congress, not speaking up clearly about minority rights? It is shocking that the Congress is reluctant to touch the issue of how minorities are under threat in India. Some days back Sonia wrote an article calling “India must show that it is possible to translate idealistic visions into lived realities.” But why this conviction is not seen in the action of Rahul.

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