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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 33 New Delhi August 3, 2019

Congress Moving Towards a Split?

Saturday 3 August 2019, by T J S George



Rahul Gandhi’s insistence on not continuing as the Congress President was the best thing that happened to the Congress in a long time. He must stick to it. Confusion and chaos, perhaps even cracks and crumbling may follow. That, too, would be good for the party which is 134 years old now. Everything needs renewal, rebirth and sometimes reincarnation. A new kind of Congress is what India needs. If it can emerge only from the ashes of the existing set-up, so be it. The exodus of Congress MLAs to the BJP (Goa, Karnataka, Gujarat) need not be taken seriously. It’s just seasonal commerce. The BJP is the richest party today and has ministership also for trading. Let them trade.

Mean minds will no doubt interpret things in mean ways. The churning in the Congress led the BJP to gloat over a Congress-mukt Bharat, a phrase promoted by the strategist Amit Shah. What they meant was an Opposition-mukt Bharat, a North Korea-kind of situation where elections are held with exemplary regularity, the turnout is near 100 per cent and the ruling group always gets 99.9 per cent of the votes cast. Since we are more advanced than the North Koreans, we came up with impeccable slogans such as One Nation, One Election and, yes, One Party, One Leader.

Amit Shah’s BJP, as distinct from Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP, sees the Opposition as an avoidable nuisance in a democracy. But it is not. It is a means of survival in a country with 22 official languages, 1652 mother tongues, 29 civilisationally different States, six national minority religions and the majority one comprising six philosophies, two schools and numerous sects. Such delightful diversity can be turned into a One Nation One Party set-up only with fascist methods. An Opposition means less fascism.

In the current phase of history, the Opposition happens to be extraordinarily weak. While the Congress is looking for an identity, groups like Sharad Pawar’s NCP have gone rudderless. The JD(S), on the edges of power here and there, has become untenable because of outdated family dominance. H. Vishwanath, resigning as the JD(S) chief in Karnataka, said: “Even after near-total decimation of the party in the recent election, the Gowda family refuses to realise that public sentiment is against them.”

In contrast to the self-absorbed, power-at-any-cost Gowda attitude, Rahul Gandhi’s renunciation of power looks noble. The Congress’ own internal corrosion surfaced when ancient gentlemen like Sushil Kumar Shinde and Motilal Vohra were proposed as substitutes for Rahul. Manoeuvrers like Ashok Gehlot unashamedly sang their own praises. Only Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh understood the gut of the problem. Go for a young man as party President, he said.

Precisely. This is the time for the Congress to go for a Sachin Pilot or a Jyotiraditya Scindia or a Milind Deora. And give them real power. Let them restructure the party as the changed climate requires. If this antagonises “veterans’ like Gehlot and Sanjay Nirupam, consider it good riddance. If it leaves self-promoters like P. Chidambaram unhappy, consider it a gain.

If a contingent of tainted veterans leave and the party is split, it should not be seen as a setback for the Congress. The Congress was split in 1907 between Extremists (such as Tilak and Lajpat Rai) and Moderates (Gokhale, Pherozeshah Mehta). It was split again in 1969 when the Syndicate expelled Indira and Indira formed her own Congress. The best thing that can happen to the Congress now is another split, with the more selfish among the old guard leaving and the youth taking charge (Pilot is 41, Deora 42 and Scindia 48). Veterans who command respect, such as Mallikarjun Kharge and Ghulam Nabi Azad, can still have key roles to play.

Most critics, who cite Mahatma Gandhi’s advice that the Congress should be disbanded, do so without grasping the context in which he placed the idea. What he said was: “India having attained political independence through means devised by the Indian National Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form has outlived its use.” It was really a call to change the shape and form of the organisation to suit the changed circumstance. That is precisely today’s need as well. Rahul Gandhi has prepared the ground for Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to be translated into practice. It is a call for the rise of a new Congress. Parties are made by men. What man has made, man can change. 

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