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Last Chance For Congress Before Rigor Mortis Sets In

August 27, 2022 13:39 IST
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A flop Bharat Jodo Yatra could unleash more resignations from a party which under its current leadership is dying a slow death, warns Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Ghulam Nabi Azad and other party leaders at the party's 'Azadi Gaurav Yatra' on Independence Day 2022. Photographs: ANI Photo


There seems to be no end to the woes of the Congress party.

Ghulam Nabi Azad's leaving may not make much difference to its electoral fortunes, but it still constitutes yet another blow to a party long suspected to be in terminal decline.

Just when the party was going through the final stages of an exercise to elect a new leader the process was delayed for inexplicable reasons. And exactly at the same time the Gandhis chose to fly abroad, ostensibly for Sonia Gandhi's medical check-up and for spending some quality time with her aging mother in Italy.

The sharp indictment in Azad's five-page bombshell of a letter to Sonia Gandhi was most significant for the fact that despite his resignation following the 2019 Lok Sabha wash-out, and her return as interim president, Rahul and his coterie continued to be fully in control of the party.

Which underlines the pointlessness of the whole charade of electing a new leader, possibly a non-Gandhi as the next party president. Such is the stranglehold of the Gandhis over the Congress that no one can expect to free it from their control even if he were to formally assume its leadership. It is so because no one in the party is a leader in his own right.

Since the time Indira Gandhi undertook to systematically cut to size regional Congress bosses, the party has relied solely on the central leadership even in provincial elections to win elections. This, in turn, legitimised the practice of nominating leaders of various state Congress legislative parties through edicts from on-high.

Even someone like Ashok Gehlot, who enjoys a modicum of grassroot support in Rajasthan, cannot defy the Gandhis and then hope to survive as chief minister. The dwarfing of state leaderships, and the resulting dependence on the Gandhis, while consolidating their grip on the party organisation became the main cause of its diminution at the popular level.

Ths lag in the popular support cannot be addressed by a sham exercise to elect a new party president. At best, it would allow the party to counter the charge that it is family-run since the de jure head would be a non-Gandhi. But for all practical purposes the Gandhi scion would continue to micro-manage the Congress, a charge Azad buttressed in his five-page charge-sheet against the party leadership.

IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad seen during the party's 'Azadi Gaurav Yatra' on Independence Day 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Of course, it is easy to ascribe selfish motives to Azad's resignation. The fact that he was denied the nth term in the Rajya Sabha may have well have contributed to his parting with the Gandhis, three generations of which he claims to have served most loyally. Yet it will be hard to dismiss his critique of the leadership which was to blame for its current woeful state.

Persisting with Rahul Gandhi as leader when time and again it has been proved that he neither has the energy nor the inclination, nor, for that matter, understanding to devote undivided attention to the party is a self-inflicted wound.

Yet, the mother's love to continue the dynastic line as the controller of India's premier political organisation as a family heirloom was pushing the once mighty Congress towards a slow but certain decay and destruction.

At a time when it is clear even to the dim-witted that what the Congress in its worst hour of crisis urgently requires is renewal and regeneration, persisting with the de facto leadership of the Gandhis is self-deluding, and set to prove baneful for its revival.

Nobody would be more pleased with the uninterrupted control of the Gandhis over the Grand Old Party than the Bharatiya Janata Party.

IMAGE: From left, Anand Sharma, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Ghulam Nabi Azad greet Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi at an all-party meeting in New Delhi, January 31, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

That the country needs a strong opposition for the defence of its Constitutional institutions, for preventing the ruling dispensation from riding roughshod over peoples' rights, for pointing out the latter's various acts of omission and commission -- why, for the government-in-waiting to present an alternative policy framework of secularism and economic reforms and defence of civic rights, et al -- is not in doubt.

What is also not in doubt is that the main Opposition party has failed to perform its designated role as a vigilant monitor of government functioning both inside and outside Parliament.

However, the prescriptions for healing the Congress paralysis seem to be wrong-headed. The proposed Bharat Jodo Yatra beginning September 7 cannot be anything but a huge disappointment. The weak organisational structure will be further magnified by the lack of a popular leader.

Even if in the two states -- Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan == where the party is in power, the crowds could be commandeered by district-level bureaucracies, the yatra could still end up in a fiasco with Rahul Gandhi's lack of connect with the people yet again coming into sharp relief.

In this context, it was interesting that the Congress invited various civil society groups to participate in the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Rahul Gandhi met representatives of some 110-odd civil society groups in the capital the other day. Both the Congress and civil society organisations finding themselves increasingly marginalised under the Modi government. Maybe it was their shared plight that brought them on a common platform.

But such togetherness could taint the civil society activists with a partisan political agenda, while the Congress may not regain traction in their company, given their multiple agendas and very often questionable funding.

Even if there may be a commonality of interest in resisting some of the government's more controversial decisions, the objectives of political parties and civil society organisations are better served by their maintaining a safe distance from one another.

IMAGE: Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sachin Pilot perform the parikrama at Veer Bhumi, Rajiv Gandhi's samadhi on the former prime minister's 78th birth anniversary, August 20, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Also, why the Congress's Bharat Jodo Yatra seems ill-timed is that it should have come after the party had put its house in order -- as Azad said, Congress Jodo should have preceded Bharat Jodo.

More importantly, without taking the Opposition parties along, getting them to provide the necessary mobilisation, such a gambit, instead of consolidating Rahul Gandhi's leadership, could only result in proving for the nth time that he lacks what it takes to be a leader, period.

A flop Yatra could further unleash a flurry of resignations from a party which under its current leadership is dying a slow death.

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