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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 19 New Delhi May 2, 2015

Congress Desperately Needs: a New Social Model for Survival

Saturday 2 May 2015

by Arun Srivastava

This article arrived late. We are still using it as its contents retain their validity.

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s month long “leave of absence” will expire on April 19. He would resume his duties by addressing a rally of farmers organised by the party to protest against the Land Acquisition Bill of the Narendra Modi Government. His participation at the rally has acquired much bigger dimension only for the reason that his mother, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, had to rush to Amethi after a poster appeared in the area declaring that the local MP (Rahul Gandhi) was “missing”. Pasted at markets, railway and bus stations, the posters with the message “Missing Amethi MP” asked people to launch a manhunt to find the “missing” leader.

Apparently the rally has been organised on April 19 to intensify the offensive against the Modi Government, on the eve of the commence-ment of Budget session of Parliament after its brief recess, but it does not matter much for Rahul. While he had preferred to ignore and skip the opening of the Budget session, Sonia Gandhi has been visiting States taking up the farmers’ cause and boosting the sagging morale of the party rank and file, a task which otherwise should have been accomplished by Rahul.

Sonia leading a “united Opposition” in a protest march against land Bill was enough to inject new life into the Congress. What was important was that the march was specta-cularly successful even with Rahul nowhere to be seen. The anti-land acquisition bill platform for all practical purposes turned into an anti-Modi forum with Sonia Gandhi assuming its leadership role. After a long gap the Third Front forces and Left parties rallied behind Sonia. On her part Sonia tactfully turned the protest march into a “secular-progressive” debate. In fact the remarks of the JD(U) President, Sharad Yadav, who stood next to her, summed up the mood: “All progressive, secular, democratic and forward looking forces are determined to defeat the Modi Government’s design to promote divisions and social disharmony. Those who lost in 2014 have come together to sound the bugle for a war against the Modi Government and this fight will go to the finish”.

After the Jaipur chintan shivir Rahul was elevated to the post of Vice-President in the hope that he would lead the party from the front. But he has proved to be a miserable failure. His skipping the Budget session probably manifested his mindset and psyche that the country can wait for him. Else how could Rahul prefer not to attend the all-important Budget session? Now a clamour and chorus has started in the party for anointing him as the party chief. Since the Congress is the family fiefdom of the Nehrus-Gandhis, there is little doubt he would be crowned. But that is not expected to provide a definite new dynamics to the functioning of the Congress and its resurrection. His elevation will not end the endless speculation about his views on key national issues because he hasn’t spelt out his vision for India’s future. It is the political and ideological vision of the leadership that guides and shapes the destiny of the party. What should be the nature of the Congress is not clear to Rahul. The reason is he does not have the complete picture and understanding of India.

Ever since he emerged on the Congress scene, he has been talking of change. But he is not specific about the nature and character of change. He has been projecting “change” as a solution to all problems. Use of word change in recent years has become a fashion. From political parties to NGOs everyone has been mouthing this word. Whether it is Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal or Narendra Modi—every one came to power riding on this word. No one is ironically clear about its implication. So is the case with Rahul. He has been speaking of empowering the people. But he has to specifically spell out the target group.

There is no denying the fact that the Congress lost the Lok Sabha elections due to the ambivalent stand of the Congress on this issue. You cannot kiss a snake and toad at the same time. Rahul snubbed Manmohan to identify with the rural people but at the same time he advocated for taking care of the aspirations of the urban middle class.

It should not sound harsh that Rahul cannot become a change-agent and at the same time he is not charismatic. He spoke about decentra-lisation and inner-party democratisation in his Jaipur speech. The party made efforts to woo the upwardly mobile middle-class, even as urban India is witnessing new forms of social and political mobilisation. Although the Jaipur declaration spoke about two Indias—”the young middle class India” and “the young deprived India”—there is no mistaking the shift. It acknowledged the need to take on board the “desires and demands” of an ostensibly homo-geneous “aspiring India”, whose concerns are not properly reflected by the political process.

He riled and despised the “high command culture” in the Congress. But what was seen? In real terms he has been propagating the very same ideas of which he is supposedly opposed to. The more he harped on democratising the party, the more the Congress got dissipated systematically. Rahul Gandhi’s experiments in democracy have also been in vain. They have made very little impact on the Youth Congress and even less on the main Congress party. Politics of patronage, clientilism and family thrive unchanged. Earlier the feudal lords or leaders with feudal background dictated the things, now a new class of elites, the nouveau riche, with corporate background have been deciding the future course.

His strategy for reviving the party organi-sation through the Youth Congress route has failed to change the culture of his party. He ought to know there is no copybook tactics and style in politics. He should understand that political is the manifestation of the economic activities and policies of a country.

Rahul is trying to experiment by mixing the corporate functional culture with the Left-of- Centre political orientation, which in essence has been the strategic path followed and practiced by the NGOs. He should realise that the Congress is not an NGO. It is worth recalling his remarks after the AAP formed the government in 2013. While Sonia Gandhi exercised restraint, he advised the rank and file to take ideas from the AAP.

The Congress Vice-President is using modern corporate management techniques to revamp the party but he is not sure, whether it would work. Had he been sure, he would not have gone on sabbatical. His taking “earned leave”, that too at a time when the Modi Government has been on the mat, speaks loud of the irrelevance of his borrowed ideas.

Rahul had appointed a four-member committee to devise a strategy to rejuvenate the party and fight the Narendra Modi Government. But it proved to be a non-starter. He also convened a number of marathon sessions of the Congress leaders. But what did these meetings produce? In fact these were unproductive and utter loss of time and energy. In fact these meetings gave birth to a kind of sycophancy in the party. If the old feudal style of functioning, which survived on the elements of loyalty and patronage, destroyed the party, the new work culture which Rahul tried to implant has been responsible for its present dissipation. While the lower level cadres are struggling to adjust to the new corporate work-culture the nouveau elite which has come to control the party is thriving.

In fact before launching the measures for revamping the party, Rahul should have spared some time to understand the rural economy and the socio-political construction and restructuring of the Indian society. He should have taken pains to read the writings of his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, and should have tried to understand the class composition and character of the Indian society. He has often been heard talking of poor Lilawati but he never tried to unleash this force.

There is no denying the fact that Rahul is a bundle of confusion and is not sure which path to follow. Since he aspires to rule India, he should have tried to find out why democracy is immensely popular and successful in India at a time when major political changes are taking place everywhere. Indian society and polity do not fit into the framework of any given model. He must try to find out why all shades of political ideologies have to make some kind of alterations and changes in their ideological contours; whether it is the Marxist or even the Rightist RSS and BJP.

Applying management techniques would not solve the complicated agrarian relations and answer the agrarian questions, the fundamentals of the Indian politics. He should have analysed the emergence of the regional parties in the correct economic and political perspective and not seen through the narrow prism of casteism through which the urban India looks at it.

He should have realised that Congress since its birth has been a platform of heterogeneous forces and elements. If it had aristocrats, princes and was the favourite socialist club for feudal lords, it also ventilated and projected the aspirations and feelings of the rural poor. Rahul used his new-age technology in the last Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections to democratise the Youth Congress and National Students Union of India. But that miserably failed to pay dividend. He ought to know that Indian politics draws its sustenance from emotional, multi-dimensional and highly-complicated personal and social relations. Unlike in the Western world, Indians live politics. Politics is a dynamic process. It cannot be reduced to power-point presentations number.

It is an open secret that his corporate-style techniques and functioning to strengthen the AICC organisation that have failed to rejuvenate the rank and file, also did not succeed in curbing factionalism. The worst has happened in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. For instance, his Mission Uttar Pradesh was painstakingly planned on paper. He had meticulously divided Uttar Pradesh into 10 zones, each put under the charge of zonal officials who in turn reported to AICC General Secretary Digivijaya Singh. But we saw the Congress continues to be in a moribund state. During the Lok Sabha elections Rahul had to depend on the personal appeal of his sister, Priyanka, for his own survival.

At the time Rahul Gandhi launched his “primaries” experiment for candidate selection it was hailed as a plan to “end the High Command culture” that could pave the way for direct election of even the all-powerful Congress Working Committee. But it created lot of controversies and retarded the process of growth. Rahul’s strategy failed to salvage the party in the 2012 UP Assembly elections. The same thing happened in Bihar. Inner-party democracy was implemented and many organisational changes were made. But the Congress miserably lost in the 2010 Assembly elections. The primaries had selected the candidates. After three months of the elections, the State President blamed the central leadership for choosing poor candidates and cited “organisational weak-nesses, indiscipline and irregularities in distribution of tickets”. The youth wing’s blue- eyed boy of Rahul had in fact only made matters worse. “They didn’t listen to us,” said the President, “but we couldn’t do much against them because they were moneyed people, contractors, mafias, they hijacked the entire party. Things were so chaotic here no one knew who was supporting whom.” The poor President had to lose his job for speaking against the leader-ship.

It is a fact that the party workers at the grass-roots rust and decay while Ministers and party functionaries grab wealth and power. Instead of putting the question: ”What should be the evaluation mechanism to promote party workers to the next level?”, he must try to find out a political answer to this. This is primarily denying of space to the economically poor and subaltern. The answer to the revival of the Congress lies in solving this quiz. Rahul cannot aspire to lead the Congress and pose a serious challenge to Narendra Modi with his half-baked ideas and notions.

After the protest march suddenly a specu-lation is doing the rounds in political circles that Sonia Gandhi’s re-emergence will pose problems for Rahul. This does not appear to have any rationale. But one thing is clear: Rahul is his own enemy. He must look at the ground realities and try to differentiate between politics and realpolitik. The exigencies of realpolitik suggest that the Congress must now allow Manmohan Singh to fade into oblivion carrying with him the burden of incompetence and scams. The party must identify with the aspirations of the subaltern and downtrodden. Since the 1980s, the traditional base of the Congress has splintered with the rise of the intermediate and OBC castes and Dalits. They shifted their loyalty to the caste-based regional parties and even the BJP. This denied the Congress of its mass character. The Congress must strive for a new model.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com