The Congress party should take a leaf out of the BJP’s book and carry out a surgical strike on its own leadership.
The hammering in consecutive general elections notwithstanding, at the Congress party office; it is business as usual. This was clear from what transpired at the Congress Working Committee meeting on Saturday.
The party president thanked workers and supporters. He offered to resign. The committee applauded his energetic campaigning and unanimously urged him to withdraw his resignation. It went on to authorise him to “restructure the party and lead its revival”.
No one veered from the script. Which makes one surmise that when the post-mortem of the defeat does take place, as in the past, it will be of no help. No one has the guts to perform an honest analysis, call a spade a spade.
The fact is that most of the working committee members cannot be there on their own merit and draw their power from the Nehru-Gandhi family. They are the ones displaying an advanced stage of the ostrich syndrome. They behave as if the Congress faces no danger.
But it does. The Congress party is facing its gravest existential threat since birth! Just look at the map of India and see how much it has shrunk in Narendra Modi’s five years of premiership. Unless its leaders wake up and acknowledge this crisis and make sincere, persistent, imaginative and pro-active efforts to earn back the trust of the masses, it will be totally obliterated by the next NaMo tsunami come 2024.
Calling Mr Modi names and hurling accusations and abuse at him is silly; at present he has the people’s mandate and they are just not prepared to believe any allegations against the Prime Minister, they just dismiss them with a shrug.
Sycophants and yes-men are the biggest enemies of the Congress party. But a patient can be cured only if he accepts that he is suffering, and is prepared to undergo what treatment is required, based on diagnosis and not on his own whims.
The Congressmen who want to see it not only survive but bounce back must, therefore, ask the leadership some pointed questions:
How come, in Uttar Pradesh, which gave three Congress Prime Ministers in over 40 years, its tally was reduced to one seat?
How come, after getting elected for three consecutive terms, the Congress president lost the Amethi seat by over 50,000 votes?
Wasn’t it naive and childish to assume that flagging the Rafale deal would result in votes for the Congress? In fact, the majority of the rural voters had no clue what “Rafale” was all about.
Isn’t it true that the Congress has lost the perception war badly? In 2014, thanks to Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, CAG reports, a series of scams, strictures of the Supreme Court and a strident campaign by the BJP, a perception was created that the Manmohan Singh government was reeking of corruption. But this time around, the general public perception was that the Modi government at the Centre was free of corruption.
The “chowkidar chor hai” slogan was as unproductive and retrograde slogan as the “chaiwala” slur of Mani Shankar Aiyar from 2014. Rahul Gandhi’s claim that the whole country was chanting this slogan was patently false; it wasn’t raised at others’ rallies. Even those who might suspect some corruption in the Rafale deal can’t peg it to Mr Modi personally.
Oversimplification leads to falsehood. Former French President Francois Hollande might have said that he had no real choice in picking up an offset partner; he went along with what was offered by the Indian side. But he didn’t say: Mr Modi is the chor. Similarly, telling the farmers, unemployed youth and others that Mr Modi took out money from their pockets and put in businessman Anil Ambani’s was infantile, it didn’t click.
Wasn’t underestimating Mr Modi as a politician and what he has done as PM and overestimating his own capability Mr Gandhi’s huge mistake? Anyone familiar with Mr Modi’s oratorical skills felt that Mr Gandhi’s challenge to him to debate was ludicrous.
Can the Congress ever come back by finding fault with the Modi government? They must come up with a counter-narrative that seems convincing, doable and attractive. It must have the power to win back those voters who had supported it for years but deserted it in recent times.
Does the Congress have an army of young, energetic and committed workers to volunteer at the grassroots level like the swayamsewaks of the RSS without expecting instant rewards? Is there a leadership that can inspire them to do so?
The Congress should have sound, reasonable answers to simple queries of ordinary voters. How can a party govern the whole country when it can’t take care of a state which offered it three Prime Ministers? And how can a leader be trusted to address the problems of India when he couldn’t address problems of his own constituency?
A living, vibrant and ambitious party does not mind sacrificing leaders to the larger interests of the party. In 2014, the BJP dashed L.K. Advani’s lifelong ambition and chose Mr Modi over him as the prime ministerial candidate. This time, it showed the door to both Mr Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi by refusing them even Lok Sabha tickets. Today, no one is complaining about it.
The Congress party should take a leaf out of the BJP’s book and carry out a surgical strike on its own leadership. Those who have won in trying times should be rewarded and those who have lost should be retired gracefully.
In 2014, Capt. Amarinder Singh stopped the BJP-Akali Dal juggernaut. He has done it again. He has the administrative experience and is considerably popular. He still shows loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family. Why not invite him to be the next Congress president?
Dr Shashi Tharoor has scored a hat-trick in Kerala wining Thiruvananthapuram for the third time and with a much wider margin. With 20 books to his credit, he is an exceptional orator and debater in the English language. Mr Tharoor is one of the pioneers in Twitter use in India and has a huge following, including among the youth. He can be made vice-president. Sachin Pilot can be the other vice-president.
Charity begins at home. Unless it wins back Uttar Pradesh, the Congress cannot hope to return at the Centre. Priyanka Gandhi should be made full-time president of UP and given the charge of reviving the party from the grassroots and winning the next assembly election, if necessary in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party.
Instead of frittering away its resources by putting up candidates everywhere, the Congress should show the flexibility to compromise and forge alliances as it did in Tamil Nadu. There is no free lunch. Congress leaders should emulate Mr Modi and BJP president Amit Shah and sweat it out in the heat and dust.
Mr Gandhi should be made non-executive president of the party. He should criss-cross India explaining the Congress manifesto and its values to the people without using derogatory words for the Prime Minister, for it doesn’t go down well with the general public.
The writer is a former ambassador