By Invite Whither Congress
waited for the word that would come from Delhi in what was a moment of truth for the Congress. The Nehru-Gandhi family has been to Congress what the RSS is to BJP — the glue which keeps them together. Besides its century-old emotional bonds with Congress, the Gandhi family’s authority has stemmed from its ability to win votes. The reality is that without the family at its head, Congress would be in a greater disarray, and may break up into half a dozen small groupings today. Digvijaya Singh has urged Sharad Pawar and Mamata Banerji to return to the party fold. This points to the possibility, in future, of a regrouping of the Congress parivar—including all those who had left the parent party at some stage — and this could take place under the stewardship of someone other than a member of the Gandhi family and has been the dream project of someone like Sharad Pawar. It is not “defeat” alone that worries many in Congress today, but the question mark that has been put against the ability of the family to lead. That Congress’ status today is no better than that of a regional party is to state the obvious — 7 seats more than the AIDMK, 10 more than Trinamool, only 10 seats in 15 states, most of them large ones, deposits lost in as many as 179 Lok Sabha constituencies, and not eligible for the post of the Leader of Opposition. The crisis afflicting Congress today is essentially one of leadership and of disconnect, at all levels – between the outgoing PM and his ministers, between ministers and party workers, between Rahul Gandhi and Congress leaders. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi also had teams they relied on, but whether it was RK Dhawan or ML Fotedar, they were connected to the party apparatus. Even if half the allegations of corruption against the UPA government — and this includes both Congress and allies – were exaggerated, it failed to communicate this to the people. As Modi prepared for Raisina Hill, in the last 4 years and more, Congress slumbered, what with Manmohan Singh’s effete stewardship, Sonia Gandhi taking a backstep due to indifferent health and an “on and off ” Rahul Gandhi, unwilling to go beyond the vice-presidentship, and when he took charge towards the end, the game was up.
The country turned to Modi not just because people were angry with the UPA, but because he stepped into the vacuum of leadership created by Congress, with people looking to him as someone who could take charge of what had become a rudderless ship in choppy seas. The transition in BJP was complete when Modi was projected as PM candidate. In the Congress, the tug of war has intensified between the Rahul team and the party’s old guard.
There is an outcry by many Congressmen for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to take over. She is charismatic, has demonstrated quick political reflexes, evident in the way she gave it back to Modi in the recent campaign, is seen as a ‘dabang” neta, reminding Congresspersons of grandmother Indira Gandhi, and what is more, she has the ability to connect with people. But if she comes, it will have to be with a crack team in the changed India of 2014. What, however, makes it more difficult for her are allegations against her husband Robert Vadra, and the nature of mandate 2014, which underlines a growing antipathy towards the politics of entitlement.
Meanwhile, it is Sonia Gandhi, who wanted to take a back seat in 2014, who has to continue to steer the party at what is probably the most difficult time in its history. Whether it is creating mass leaders in the states, or holding elections to the CWC, or forging a “grand alliance” with regional parties in Parliament to provide an effective opposition, at the end of the day, it is the Congress leadership which will have to take initiatives. Just as the country expects Modi to deliver on the promises, it expects the Grand Old Party of India to shape up for the sake of India’s democratic future.