By In­vite Whither Congress

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

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.

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