One more set of elections got over, with one more drubbing to the grand old party of Indian politics. Going by the unsolicited (and unheeded?) advises pouring in for the party’s top leadership, one wonders how the Party keeps losing elections despite so many well-wishers! If all these ‘well-wishers’ worked hard for a Congress win, it would have been difficult to defeat it in elections!
It is not just the usual detractors and the media pundits that want Gandhi family to own up the responsibility for repeated defeats and step aside from the top leadership of the party. Even some of the diehard supporters are seen promoting hashtags, calling for a Gandhi Mukt Congress. Many others are not so critical of the top leadership, but demand specific actions by the leadership, to ensure the reversal of Party’s fortunes.
Let me share some of the thoughts that came up while reading those friendly, and not-so-friendly advises. Firstly, did anyone in their right senses expect Congress to stage a coup and reverse writings on the wall in Haryana and Maharashtra, as was visible during the recently concluded Loksabha elections? More so, when its partner NCP had ditched it just before the elections? I, for one, was not expecting any such dramatic changes and found the results more or less on the expected lines.
Secondly, one of the suggestions being made, to change the electoral fortunes of Congress is to empower local and regional leaderships. On the face of it, the suggestion looks logical. However, we also have a situation where Kumari Shelja has already made a demand for Mr. Hooda to own up the responsibility for the election results in Haryana. She blamed Hooda’s style of functioning, wherein, allegedly he had sidelined all other leaders. Now when you empower one leader, wouldn’t it make him more powerful than others? How will you ensure that all others in the Party remain happy and satisfied? Nobody can blame that Hooda Govt had not performed in Haryana. By almost all indices, the state had progressed well beyond national averages under the Hooda Govt.
Other Maharashtra leaders are also complaining that it is an empowered Prithviraj Chavan that has caused the loss in Maharashtra! Again, in Maharashtra, people seem to have not appreciated how the leadership persisted with a Mr. Clean as the CM! Chavan and Hooda represented two styles of politics, but both did not work for Congress. It only shows that perhaps many factors including the continuing honeymoon of voters with Narendra Modi and natural anti-incumbency mood against multiple term governments contributed in ousting the Congress.
Last but not the least, is the demand for the top leadership (Sonia and Rahul) to step aside. The demand comes from two sources. First source is the genuine outrage and frustration of the Party supporters for whom it is a pain to see repeated electoral reversals. The other source is the opponents who are drawing some pleasure by attacking the leadership when it is most vulnerable. Many in the Right Wing considers Nehru-Gandhi family as the only stumbling block in their quest for a Congress Mukt Bharat, which is necessary for them to pursue their majoritarian agenda.
In principle, I am not in favour of dynasties in democracy. However, I am a pragmatist who recognizes the role of Gandhi family in holding the Congress Party together. The experiment involving Sitaram Kesri and Narasimha Rao had shown how difficult it will be for the Congress Party to stay together when there is no glue of a Gandhi name to hold it together. Just like RSS holds BJP together, Congress is held together by the Gandhi name. Also, the role of families in Indian politics (same as in other businesses and even professions) cannot be overcome so easily. In India, all political parties, with the exception of Left Parties are controlled by one or other family. Even the BJP, which is controlled by the RSS is not free from the role of families, with a large number of second and third generation members already representing it in the legislative bodies. There is no evidence to suggest that Indian electorate detests the role of families in politics. Therefore, the question of dynasty and its effect on electoral fortunes may be misplaced.
All these points clearly show that there are no readymade solutions for Congress to adopt. Every formula can be seen as tested and failed at some point in time. No Party can afford to discard its leadership each time it suffers an electoral setback. It is also a fact that currently there is no leader who has the stature to merely step into the shoes of Sonia or Rahul and start leading the Party with the full support from all sections of the Party and the wider electorate. Therefore, it has to take a more long-term view and strengthen itself from the grassroots level.
The Party is out of power at the national level and in a majority of the states. The fortune hunters have either moved to BJP and got elected or are in the process of getting in the good books of Modi. Only the committed workers will remain with the party. The party has to take steps to energize this core support base and develop it into a strong force. It is in this context that I would like to place my unsolicited advice on record. Rahul Gandhi can play an important role in executing this suggestion and kill many birds with a single stone.
The suggestion is to introduce genuine internal democracy in the Party. Rahul had tried this in bits and pieces. However, to derive any benefit from it the adoption has to be universal and wholehearted. Let no leader get any position except through an election. Right from the local committees, to the AICC President let all positions be occupied by those leaders elected by the party members. Let local and regional leadership emerge on their own right and not as ‘empowered’ by the High Command. Let the candidates for lections also be decided by the primaries (the system was piloted during last Loksabha elections). Even Rahul Gandhi should contest and win whatever party post that he aspires for, instead of continuing to be entitled on the basis of a surname. If the leaders elected through genuine internal elections decide to elect Rahul Gandhi, he would have finally buried the tag of dynasty and emerged as a leader, in his own right.
For the beginning, let the Party announce final timelines for the next round of organizational elections. According to a reported statement by the Chairman of the Party’s electoral authority, Mr. Mullappaly Ramachandran, the entire election process is expected to be completed by July 2015. Let it be made known to all that there will be no exemptions from its process. This will energize the workers who might be demoralized from the recent setbacks, and make them work instead of merely waiting for the ruling side to commit blunders. It will also ensure healthy competition among leaders and result in emergence of a set of leaders who have the backing of the party workers.
I can foresee the objections to the above suggestion. However, I don’t buy the arguments that internal elections will weaken the Party. Party is already weakened by the present system, and there is no guarantee that continuing with the same system will produce any better results. Kerala presents an example where different groups are functioning within the Party and yet the Party continues to do well, organizationally and electorally.
A party that is committed to democracy must be willing to accept the risks in adopting that same democracy. Leaders who cannot live by democracy cannot aspire for its fruits alone! Winning elections is necessary, but it is not the only end in democracy.