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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 38, New Delhi, September 5, 2020

India Beckons Congress | Ashok Celly

Friday 4 September 2020, by Ashok Celly

Let me say this straight away that India badly needs the Congress party with all its faults. A Congress-mukt Bharat is not in our interest. For Congress is the only opposition party with an all-India presence even in its present, debilitated state. Congress is very much present in the north (M.P., Rajasthan, Punjab and Chattisgarh); in the south, it wields considerable influence in Karnataka and Kerala; its presence in the west Maharashtra and Gujarat – is something to be reckoned with and it hasn’t altogether disappeared in Bengal and other eastern states.

The opposition is an essential part of a democratic system, for it acts as a watchdog on the functioning of the ruling party. And the ruling party with its brute majority and the domineering presence of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi certainly needs a vigorous and vigilant opposition. One might turn round and say that the Congress is hardly performing that function but as long as it is there, the possibility of its doing so cannot be ruled out. I guess possibility in politics as in science is a big thing.

Some people still believe that it is the dynastic principle that is hurting the Congress. (Pavan Verma’s article in The Times of India recently is a good example of this line of thinking). There is no doubt that the dynastic principle is a negation of democratic values. It is so blatantly feudal. But over the years it has become an important feature of Indian politics. Indian people in general and the Congress party in particular have accepted the VIP status of the Gandhi family. We must not forget that Rajiv Gandhi, a rookie in politics came to power with a massive majority.

So dynasty is no longer an issue. The problem is dynasty has ceased to deliver. The grand old party with the triumvirate of Sonia ji, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Wadra at the helm has been reduced to as few as 50 odd seats in a house of more than 500 members.

What went wrong with the Congress? It seems to me that during the last few years the Congress has been afflicted with two major maladies. One, it has been behaving like the B Team of the BJP. Two, it has lost the will to power.

These two characteristics may seem apparently contradictory, but they are not. In fact, meaningful political activity is possible only when ideological commitment is backed by will to power. The Congress’s dalliance with Hindutva is not a sign of political smartness. It only shows that the Congress has lost confidence in itself and is looking for short cuts. It also shows a failure of political intelligence, for why should people vote for the B team when A team is present. No wonder, Rahul Gandhi’s visits to temples, paying obeisance to holy men & flaunting of Hindu credentials have paid no electoral dividends. Even if the Congress had succeeded, it would have been a pyrrhic victory. It would have meant a betrayal of the liberal – secular legacy that has distinguished the Congress since its inspection. Sonia ji often talks of ‘the idea of India’. It is not enough to talk about it. One should walk the talk.

Also, you cannot expect power to be handed to you on a platter. On a number of occasions the Congress has lost the coveted office to the BJP because of its dilly-dallying or laid-back approach. The state of Goa being the most glaring example.
Rahul’s Hamletising – to be the Party president or not to be the Party president – is a classic example of the lack of will to power, for it has placed the party in a state of drift and demoralized the rank and file. Similarly, the exit of two bright and promising young leaders Scindia & Pilot from the party and the somewhat cavalier response of the top brass to the whole issue shows all is not well in the state of Denmark.

So if the triumvirate cannot deliver, it must make room for others in the party. The party is bigger than the triumvirate and the country bigger than the party. So if Sonia ji really cares for the party and even more for the country, she must act like a statesman and not a run-of-the-mill politician. She must create conditions for energetic and motivated young people committed to liberal – secular values to take over executive positions in the party. Let the Congress working committee be a healthy mix of old and young, men and women representing all communities and regions – a real microcosm of India. The party needs a renaissance of sorts.

Not to act even now would amount to a betrayal not only of the party but also of the country.

Sonia ji, India is beckoning you.

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