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Mainstream, VOL LX No 14, New Delhi, March 26, 2022

The Congress Party: towards reinvention or split? | P. S. Jayaramu

Friday 25 March 2022

by P. S. Jayaramu

(18th March 2022)

Prime minister Narendra Modi and the Gandhi family are very much in the news these days. Modi for bringing the BJP back to power in four states and the Gandhi family for bringing down the Congress Party to a level where it faces an existential crisis. There are a few options before the Party—to reinvent itself or split if it comes to that. Before getting down to a discussion of them, it is appropriate to highlight some of the recent developments in the Party which were badly handled by the Gandhi family disregarding proper deliberations at the party forums, along with a total disdain for inner-party democracy in decision-making. As is well known, Rahul Gandhi takes decisions without holding any formal position in the organisational structure.

Let me take up tbe case of Punjab. The decision to make Navjot Singh Sidhu President of the Congress Party last year, it is reliably learnt, was made by Sonia Gandhi’s daughter, Priyanka Vadra, in view of Sidhu’s proximity to her, leading to a heightening of factionalism within the party. Also, the decision to change Capt. Amarinder Singh as chief minister and replace him by Rajendra Singh Channi, was taken by Rahul Gandhi, hoping that the party would be able to use the Dalit card and return to power. The consequences of those ill-thought decisions were disastrous for the Party. The Captain walked out of the Party and started his out outfit and fought the elections in alliance with the BJP. It is a different matter that he lost. The consequences of Priyanka-Rahul Gandhi decisions were catastrophic for the Party. Disenchanted with the state of affairs in the Party, the Punjab electorate rejected them recently at the hustlings and delivered a landslide victory to the AAP. All that Sonia Gandhi did was to remove Sidhu as PCC President.

The happenings in Uttarakhand before the assembly elections is another case study to highlight the adhocist manner in which the Party affairs were conducted by the Gandhi family. They had almost replaced Harish Rawat in Uttarakhand as the Party Chief, but sensing he may leave the party , Rahul Gandhi placated him and made him stay back In the party. In the end, the Party did poorly in the assembly elections.

As for Uttar Pradesh, it is well known that the entire campaigning was handled by Priyanka Gandhi who conducted nearly 200 meetings. But poor coordination with the state leaders and the disconnect with the voters, despite their attending Priyanka’s election rallies in huge numbers, led to the Party, bagging just two seats. While Sonia Gandhi sought the resignations of the UPCC chief, she has not initiated any action against Priyanka. The message is: the family can do no wrong!

Following the Party’s abysmal performance in the assembly elections, Sonia Gandhi held a meeting of the Congress Working Committee which was attended by her and Rahul loyalists and a few members of the G-23. In order to drum up support for herself and her family members, at the outset, Sonia Gandhi is reported to have announced the willingness of the family members to resign from positions in the interests of the INC. Her statement had the desired effect : the members present, reaffirmed their faith in Sonia’s leadership. Gandhi loyalists took the position that that the poll debacles were a collective failure and that they would hold a ‘chintan shibir’ to deliberate on where things went wrong and speedup the process of electing a new President for the Party.

Options before the Party:

1. In view of the widespread dissatisfaction with the Gandhis, the family, should firmly resolve not to contest for any Party position, no matter what the loyalists say. Bringing in Kamalnath, (as it is being rumoured in some circles) as Party President would be a rule by proxy of the Gandhi family, as he is a diehard, decades old, Gandhi loyalist.

2. The search for a middle-aged, full time and accessible President of the Party can begin with the Gandhis themselves suggesting the name of, for example, Sachin Pilot, who has demonstrated his commitment to the Party even in times of adversity and whose talent is wasted in the Party. As President of the Rajastan State unit, he played a key role in bringing Congress to power during the last elections. He lost his position as deputy chief minister due to the macinations of the seniors and the experienced, wily chief minister Ashok Gehlot. That he can effectively communicate his views coherently in English and Hindi should make him acceptable to the party workers and voters beyond Vindhyas and the the north-east.

3. A newly elected AICC and CWC, based on secret ballot, consisting of members in the age group 30 to 60 in due proportion, as P. Chidambaram said in a TV interview, needs to be in place to vigorously prepare the Party for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Needless to say, Party Presidents at the state and district levels should be democratically elected and not nominated by the high command as is done for decades. The high command needs to be demystified and disempowered.

4. A reinvention of the Party on the above lines, with a clear ideological underpinning based on a perspective wedded to the values enshrined in the Constitution and its Preamble should guide the activities of the Party leading to the 2024 Parliamentary elections.

5. If what is advocated above cannot be pursued, the inevitable option before Congressmen is to bring about a split in the Party, ( after all, the Party faced splits earlier) with the G-23 group, which is attracting new ( but old ) faces to it, as was seen in its recent gathering after the CWC meeting, where it reiterated its demand for organisational reforms and an ‘inclusive and collective model of leadership’. If its concerns are not meaningfully addressed, the result will be a split in the Party with the emergence, perhaps, of a Sonia (or her family) led Congress with her loyalists as one party and the breakaway group, with a new name—may be the Indian National Congress ( D), meaning democratic—coming into being. Such a party , with no baggage of the Gandhi family, should try to bring to its fold the Trinamul Congress led by Mamata Banerjee, the Nationalist Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar and the YSR Congress led by Jagan Reddy, CM of Andhra Pradesh. If a ‘ghar vapsi’ kind of a thing can not materialise, the new Party should be able to work with them without ego problems in the interests of Opposition unity, which is a sine-qua-non of our Parliamentary democracy. Additionally, the new Party should strive for establishing a network of formal / informal arrangements with the regional Parties, operating successfully in various parts of the country. That is the way to go about.

(Author: The writer is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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