The Congress’ failure is its permanent leadership crisis
If today’s actions end up as tomorrow’s regrets, economists would call this phenomenon time inconsistent preferences. Behavioural economists have done a lot of work on why people procrastinate and why they over indulge or binge.
Two economists at Yale University, Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, have set up a company that forces customers to think about their future selves. Their outfit, called Stickk, sells Commitment Contracts that stipulate a deadline for competing tasks that have been put off endlessly. The Congress Party generally, and Sonia Gandhi specifically, would benefit immensely from signing up for such a contract.
The Congress’ failure is its permanent leadership crisis. Prashant Kishor’s disillusionment with the self-destructive Congress is all too obvious in his very polite tweet: “In my humble opinion, more than me, the party needs leadership and collective will to fix the deep-rooted structural problems through transformational reforms.”
Having worked with successful, charismatic leaders, many of whom founded new parties and won, PK’s experience is confined to dealing with the boldest and the hungriest of politicians, including Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee, Jagan Mohan Reddy and now KCR. The Congress is an entirely different kettle of fish; it has its own rhythm. It has developed ambivalence and equivocation into lethal weapons. The Empowered Action Committee is an outstanding example; the name suggests it is empowered; in the end, all power in the Congress is concentrated in one person, Sonia Gandhi.
And she knows how to use her power and her image to serve the best interests of the family.
Announcing the appointment of an Empowered Action Committee, the Congress, with the usual horde of leaders, most of whom can neither win elections on their own nor help the party win in their home states, has run away from its fundamental problem. It’s a move guaranteed to end up as tomorrow’s regrets.
This is the weapon of choice for the high command to perpetuate the paralysis that has prevented the Congress from fulfilling its role as the largest Opposition party in the ideological fight against the BJP, in defending the Constitution and protecting democracy, secularism and diversity. The offer of membership and a seat at the table to PK, as one more body on the Empowered Action Group, was a classic dodge.
It does reveal, however, that Sonia Gandhi is doing what she is adept at, procrastination. The several rounds of discussions with PK suggest that even though she has acknowledged there is a crisis and its magnitude threatens the existence of the Gandhi family and the Congress, Sonia Gandhi is refusing to do something about it. It doesn’t mean she has an alternative plan; it means she is afraid her family may become redundant if PK’s plan even half succeeds.
The Congress was ambivalent about the role and relationship it could construct with PK. The party knew, even when it agreed to give time to PK to unveil his strategy for its revival and transformation into a lean, election-fighting and perhaps winning machine, that it wouldn’t make any drastic changes. The party is incompetent in managing itself, as PK’s tweet points out. Its leadership, including the Gandhis, is arrogant. It believes India’s voters will eventually return to the fold, like sheep that have gone astray, because it is the Congress and helmed by the Gandhis.
That is nonsense.
In the theatre of the absurd that’s playing in the Congress, it’s evident that the people who claim to work for the party are prepared to do things that work against the party’s best interests. There are two problems that the Congress needs to address; first is the problem of leadership and the second is the problem of management. K.T. Rama Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, following the signing of the deal with his party and before the decision on the Congress, hit the nail on the head, when he said vis-à-vis the Congress, that PK was latching on to a sick and redundant unit.
The decision to part company is good for PK, who can continue to do what he does best: strategise to win elections for parties that are willing to follow his design, roadmap and detailed blueprint and who have the necessary leadership and drive to win. However successful PK has been as a brilliant, data-crunching analyst who can come up with election- winning political strategies, there is one thing he is not. Prashant Kishor is not a political leader. He’s not the person who can stir the dead embers of support among legions of Congress workers and voters into life. The inactive and the despairing in the Congress and among voters are not going to respond to PK as a leader.
Recommendations for displacing the Gandhis from the management of the Congress by PK are not deep insights or novel ideas. The rebels within the Congress who have constituted themselves as the Group of 23, or whatever be the number of participants, have tiptoed around this need to replace the management of the party. By proposing to set up the Empowered Action Committee, Sonia Gandhi has checkmated both PK and the rebels. Given the byzantine machinations of the Congress veterans and their infinite capacity to sabotage and voracious appetite for self-destructive actions, PK as a member of the party would have found himself at a dead end.
The Congress is a brand. This brand is a product of its 137-year history and its leadership of the national movement and post-Independence India. It is true that in every village and mohalla across India, there are torchbearers of the party, devoted to its history, loyal to the principles and values it embodied. Every Indian knows the Congress. It is, therefore, accountable to the people of India.
But today’s Congress is not the party it was under Rajiv Gandhi or P.V. Narasimha Rao’s leadership. It is certainly nowhere near the party it was under Indira Gandhi’s leadership. It is nothing like the party was when stalwarts clashed and compromised and indulged in cut-throat rivalry that made the Congress a formidable force.
The party now bears the name and the legacy of the once upon a time great institution that was the Congress. Prashant Kishor may not be the only capable strategist; but by making it impossible for him to help the Congress rebuild itself, the Gandhis have ensured that no one will be permitted to help the party. They are heedless that the political capital amassed by the Congress has eroded. And now it seems they do not even want to replenish it.