'If the leadership gets wrong information, what results you can expect?'
Rashme Sehgal reports for Rediff.com
Should Congress stalwarts Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijaya Singh, Ambika Soni, Ahmed Patel and a host of others be forced to take a sabbatical?
This is the opinion of former Union minister Kishore Chandra Deo who has demanded the time has come for "15 to 20 Congress leaders to be sent on a forced holiday."
Deo did not spell out the names, but it was obvious his ire was directed at leaders who have been at the helm of affairs and who he believes been consistently giving wrong advice to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, thereby bringing the party to this pass.
"These leaders play a game of musical chairs in senior positions at the AICC (All India Congress Committee or as PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) and have gone on to become Union ministers when the party had catapulted to power," says Deo, a five-time MP.
"They are misleading both Sonia and Rahul. If the leadership gets wrong information, what results you can expect?" asked Deo.
This is the first time that a leader from the south has demanded that the stranglehold of the Congress old guard be broken to make way for a team of talented and credible youngsters who can make their way up within the party echelons.
"Indira Gandhi gave Devraj Urs and J Vengal Rao the opportunity to become chief ministers of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh respectively even though they were not known leaders," says Deo. "They proved their mettle and continue to be remembered in their states till today."
"There is no dearth of talent in the Congress," emphasises Deo.
He scoffs at the idea of 'major surgery' suggested by Digvijaya Singh, insisting that all "defeated chief ministers should have been sent back to their states to revive the party at the grassroots level. The party has already done too much introspection and now needs to go in for action."
His views are seconded by Dr M Shashidhar Reddy, former chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority and former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Marri Chenna Reddy's son who insists the time has come for a major party reshuffle.
"The existing general secretaries need to be dropped," says Dr Reddy. "They have been consistently providing wrong inputs and even the best computer will go wrong if it receives wrong data."
Party veteran Kamal Nath has also called for a reorganisation of the party, demanding a new AICC, a new team of general secretaries and a fresh team of state leaders to revive the party.
"The Congress got more (assembly) seats if we combine all states (in the recent elections). We got 140 seats while the BJP got jut 64," says Kamal Nath, confident that the Congress will make a comeback, pointing out that nothing is static in politics.
Former information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari endorses this view. "We lost Assam because of anti-incumbency, the Kerala elections follow a cyclical pattern. In Tamil Nadu the vote percentage of the alliance (the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-Congress) did not fructify, but in West Bengal we have emerged as the principal opposition. The results followed expected lines though they were a disappointment," explains Tewari.
The clamour for greater accountability by Congress leaders is matched with the demand to come up with a long term strategic vision document on both how to revive the party at both the central and state levels and then to implement it.
"We need to think through very carefully what is our trajectory for the next 36 months and who will carry this narrative through before discussing personalities," says Tewari.
"The key is what will this narrative be. Will the narrative be an extension of the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) philosophy or will we come up with an alternative narrative?" asks Tewari. "Ultimately, if there is dysfunctionality at the party hierarchy, it needs to be corrected."
Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan admits a major obstacle in the party functioning has been infighting between different groups within each state. He cites the example of how Kerala state Congress President V M Sudheeran had pushed for prohibition without consulting other senior leaders.
"The chief minister's views were the diametric opposite of the state president. No doubt drinking has to be controlled and is bad for health," says Vadakkan, adding, "Sadly, Kerala has more bars than schools. In one street, there will be six bars and one school, but the CM could have tackled the situation in a different manner. The liquor lobby in Kerala was the main factor behind our defeat in the state."
"The problem with the party is that it follows an extremely democratic style of functioning," feels Vadakkan. "If a request comes from the state, it is considered and followed through even when the Congress president is not too enthusiastic about it."
With the threat of a Congress-mukt India, the party realises that the moment of reckoning has arrived.
If the Congress fails to pull up its socks, Deo warns the nation will witness the further mushrooming of regional parties. He cites the example of the Aam Aadmi Party capturing power in Delhi and believes such a phenomenon will be witnessed in another 15 to 20 states where there are "no established regional parties at present." With no strong central leadership, he believes this can prove detrimental for the country.
Congress leaders believe another key area lies in winning the battle of perception so that the party regains public confidence. It is in this perception battle that the BJP is way ahead of the Congress.
A failed economy, a poor foreign policy and a complete fiasco in handling the drought situation that has hit half the country has not stopped the BJP from tom-toming its victories, Congress leaders say, reflecting how successful the ruling party is in the art of media management.