06 - 07 - 2020

Things are giving way in rudderless Congress

The overall incompetence of the Congress party suggests quite emphatically that it is not the force that should be expected to lead any Opposition charge at a time when India desperately needs an Opposition, not just to challenge the BJP but also to ensure the health of democracy.

Indeed, if the past is an indicator, parties that break away from the Congress and set up their own regional outfits, such as the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC, the Jagan Reddy-led YSR Congress, fare much better at providing gritty strength in their regions.

At a time when Jyotiraditya Scindia has torpedoed the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, it’s worth taking stock of what else has been happening in the party.

First, Rahul Gandhi has, for the record, been telling journalists who run into him in Parliament that he is still quitting and not becoming President and is just an ordinary MP. If so, then why do mediapersons get informed about his public outings every time he returns from a break and dabbles in politics?

The second story doing the rounds in the Congress circles is that Priyanka Gandhi is considering moving to Lucknow once one of her children finishes a board exam. Sources say a house has been found for her, but add that she need only spend 10 days or so in Uttar Pradesh and can keep flying back to Delhi. Ok, so this could be a part-time, full-time move or a full-time, full-time move? We don’t know as yet.

Third, all Congress men and women, say that Sonia Gandhi is keeping the leadership question hanging because she wants to ensure that son Rahul has something to do and does not feel adrift by life.

Meanwhile, the national Congress, at a time when not one, not two, but three Gandhis have hitched their wagons to the party, is a dissipating force that cannot be relied on to provide any leadership in the future. They don't have nationally respected figures, they don’t have good structures, they are broke and, thereby, prone to letting leaders with financial clout cloud judgments, they fight petty battles, more so as the turfs shrink and there is less to fight for.

Finally, it appears to the Indian public that the first family may be clinging on not because they love politics and the people of India but because they may have nothing left to do, were they to finally depart. That’s a very sad reason for remaining in politics (while taking the necessary ‘spiritual’ breaks to recover from the sheer inconvenience of it).

Of course, there are doorkeepers and hangers-on who would also become irrelevant were the Gandhis to depart. So, they create circles of comfort within which each member of the dynasty operates. The question they counter with is: If not a Gandhi, then who? The answer could be anyone who could win an election where all the delegates in the states and the Centre vote for a new leader or a panel of leaders. Not a nominee of the family, such as general secretary Mukul Wasnik, whose name keeps circulating as a stand-in for the family. Let the entire party resign from each post in the party structure and rebuild with whatever emerges.

In late January, when the anti-CAA protests were raging, I had a detailed conversation with a significant younger-generation Congress leader. Something is going to give way, he had said, because no one in the party has any clue where the centre of authority is.

Well, something has given way in Madhya Pradesh and it is no secret that Rajasthan, too, is touch-and-go, with Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot also looking for a future in politics beyond a holding operation. What is also revealing about the state of affairs in the Congress is that there are attempts by a section of the state Congress in league with big corporations to destabilise Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, who should numerically be stable as that state was won by a comfortable margin, unlike Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan (all three states were won by the Congress in December 2018 and wrested from the BJP).

Take the matter of Jyotiraditya Scindia, once considered close to both Rahul and Priyanka. After he was not accommodated in the Madhya Pradesh regime of the Congress, he was given the assignment of being in charge of western Uttar Pradesh during the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 while Priyanka Gandhi was made general secretary and given charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh. It was a dead-end assignment and punishment posting for him and he never recovered and even lost his own Lok Sabha seat in Guna, Madhya Pradesh, in the course of that campaign. A four-term Lok Sabha MP, he reportedly wanted a Rajya Sabha seat, but the process was humiliating and difficult, thereby making him ripe for the picking by the BJP.

As things stand now, the BJP has virtual monopoly on political finance, institutions tend to do it’s bidding with the exception of a few individuals, and it has a strong leadership at the top. What the BJP is short of, however, is talent in the middle rung and competent individuals to man several ministries and speak articulately in Parliament.

The Congress, conversely, still has a lot of talent, competent former ministers who understand economic issues far better than the BJP seems to. But the Congress seems wary of trusting talented and articulate leaders who do not belong to a particular coterie. They are respectful of the old guard, writing editorials in newspapers, but feel threatened by younger leaders.

Little wonder that many members of the Congressmen feel they have been on a rudderless ship far too long. Those who have job prospects elsewhere will be tempted to move on.

Saba Naqvi

Senior journalist