The fate of the Congress presents us with a bizarre irony: the moribund party should disappear from the political map of the country given its pathetic showing in election after election. But it has to revive and survive too, to serve as a counterweight to the BJP as a national party. It suffers from acute people disconnect and has no right to claim it represents ordinary Indians. But without it the country may delve into one-party rule, a precursor to dictatorship, and people may find it difficult to be heard. There is no third choice for the country.
This is an unfortunate situation for our democracy. Let’s place the clamour for Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as Congress president after the parliamentary poll debacle in this context. The demand may appear entirely justified but it distracts us from more pertinent questions about the party.
Will the Congress be any better without Rahul at the helm? The answer is a clear no. The party is virtually dead at the grassroots without an organisational network. Its leadership at the critical middle level is non-existent. Every unit is a fiefdom where, like at the top, a single set of people dominate. Its leaders at the top – ever noticed the faces at the top continue to be the same over the decades? – lack credibility and are a deadweight on the party. There is no leader visible who can take over and turn things around. The signs of decay and possible death are all over. Rahul or not, the Congress appears doomed. The condition of the Congress is similar to that of the Left, which has stopped being relevant in Indian politics.
The decline of the party did not begin with the ascendance of Narendra Modi. It started decades earlier. Curiously, it took no corrective action to arrest the trend. It is not possible that a party of seasoned politicians cannot assess where things have been going wrong. It has to be about a serious lack of intent to take remedial action. The Congress suffered its most serious blow in the 2014 elections, when it was reduced to 44 seats. It was a climax to a series of Assembly election defeats. If the party had been serious, it would have got down to the task of rebuilding it right away. But it stubbornly refused to change.
It is possible that the party would once again hold a working committee meet after an electoral debacle in 2024. But it would have the same faces providing the same inputs to the party, leading to the same conclusions. The action that follows would be exactly on similar lines. The first sign of impending death of a powerful ruling dispensation is when they refuse to acknowledge the truth. The Congress is refusing to accept its failings. The party should have acted in 2014. There is little possibility that it would act now.
Rahul’s resignation – the party has already said he has not done so and even if he does there is a distinct possibility that the CWC would reject it – can serve as an exemplar of accountability. If he hangs on then he would have no moral right to ask fief-holders of the party to make way for fresh faces. The deadwood would continue to be albatrosses around the party’s neck. If he stays back and deals ruthlessly with leaders bringing in no productivity to the table and clears way for fresh talent then it would be a welcome step.
But will he? On this call rests the future of the party. Revival would be an arduous task but there has to be a beginning somewhere. Given the unique leadership structure of the party, the action can only be initiated by the Gandhi family. The truth might be unpalatable but the fact is that the Congress would collapse like a pack of cards without the family serving as an adhesive. That should make the latter more assertive within the party. If it does not opt for tough action against the non-performing assets now, it will be too late.
Someone must tell the Congress and Rahul Gandhi that they don’t exist for the party alone. A political party represents the aspirations of millions of people and survives on their goodwill. They are not necessarily party workers or its permanent sympathisers but they expect the party to serve as their voice. The latter is accountable to them.