Why Congress’ Problem is India’s Problem

To call Scindia opportunistic or greedy is unimaginative. It also shows a lack of understanding of Indian politics.

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Why Congress’ Problem is India’s Problem

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Jyotiraditya Scindia has finally left the Indian National Congress. How someone who opposed one ideology and form of politics for 18 years can now join them is beyond me. I personally expected more. But I suppose expecting everyone to be motivated only by idealistic concerns is rather unrealistic. There will be other articles and pundits who will talk about this at length.

The purpose of this note however is to understand the raison d’être of Scindia’s decision, a choice which also faces Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, and so many others in the Congress.

At one level, they are perfectly entitled in demanding more from the party. They’ve served it with distinction, and given their prime years towards furthering the party’s goals.

Furthermore, they enjoy the support of lakhs of young Indians in their respective areas of influence.


The Congress Should Have Anticipated This

It’s perfectly legitimate for them to aspire to be more. To call them opportunistic or greedy is just unimaginative. It also displays a lack of understanding of how politics is structured in India. Politics in India, across all parties, is a patronage network. There are tremendous pressures on every leader, especially so on young leaders who are yet to prove themselves, to fulfil the needs and aspirations of their followers. Without doing this, they cannot enjoy their continued support.

So, is it moral on Scindia’s part to force the party into a corner once did it not fulfil his expectations? Absolutely not! But c’est la vie!

He is bound to do anything possible to safeguard and further his political journey, even if it meant leaving his party. The party should have anticipated that.

On the other hand, Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot are also equally entitled to want to continue.‬ They have experience on their side, and have already proved themselves to be able administrators.

In these trying times, when the BJP undercuts state governments by consistently undermining federal principles, it is incumbent on older leaders to ensure that the state governments remain stable.

Not doing so would mean far worse for their respective states and the country at large. Just take one hypothesis as an illustration. If Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot make way for younger, as yet untried leaders immediately, and the BJP ramrods the linked Census and National Population Register (NPR), its anybody’s guess what could happen.

A Hobson’s Choice

There is genuine fear amongst sections of India who have decided to boycott the NPR-Census, using force if necessary. The state governments are required by the Census Act, 1948 to ensure the enumeration is done and take strict action against anyone obstructing the process.


What happens then? A standoff between the police/enumerators and those boycotting the NPR is fertile grounds for a conflagration, which will be inevitably exploited by regressive forces intent on destroying the pluralistic fabric of India. The state governments face a Hobson’s choice.

They can either take strict action against those boycotting the NPR-Census, and risk hurting innocent people as well as losing the support of those sections of society forever.

Alternatively, they can witness a violent conflagration which creates a vitiated atmosphere in which regressive forces take the law in their own hands.

What then? The Union government, which has routinely imposed President’s rule and misused governors to interfere in the functioning of state governments, could well dismiss them invoking Article 356 of the Constitution.

Handling this explosive situation, which mind you could arise in April 2020, requires prior administrative experience and nerves of steel. This is not to say that younger leaders like Scindia, Pilot, Deora etc won’t be able to display these crisis management abilities.


Choosing the Safer Option?

The simple point is that there is just too much at stake, innocent lives, the plural fabric of India, the party’s continued existence etc to risk such adventures. Would anyone of us risk the lives of millions and political instability for a political experiment? Or would we chose the safer option?

The truth is that the Rajasthan model could suffice as a stop-gap solution. Sachin Pilot is clearly being eased into governance and leadership as deputy CM.

It would be infinitely worthwhile in empowering him now, and giving him the reins halfway through the five-year term.

Doing this would have also managed the aspirations of all stakeholders and effected a smooth transition.

Why this model was not adopted in Madhya Pradesh or Haryana is beyond this author’s understanding. But it does raise a more structural question. Such aspirational conflicts are bound to repeat in a political party, as it does in others apart from the Congress. People will want more as they do more. That’s the nature of politics.

The deeper and more systemic issue is that there also needs to be an institutionalised mechanism and a standard operation procedure to anticipate and resolve such conflicts.

The Madhya Pradesh crisis is case in point. Clearly J Scindia had legitimate expectations. And obviously CM Kamal Nath was more preoccupied with organisational and administrative issues. Whether Scindia’s motivations were self-serving or not is besides the point.

What matters is that the party should have accommodated them if it expected to retain power, which is both a pragmatic and moral necessity at this juncture. Why did the Congress, which has 70+ years of political and institutional experience, not proactively strive to resolve this festering problem?


Lack of Initiative or Political/ Ideological Commitment?

The Congress has a deep seated structural, rather than a leadership, problem. Irrespective of what the party’s leadership does or doesn’t do, this matter (as many other matters, such as the one involving Ashok Tanwar in Haryana) could have been amicably resolved had the established systems worked like they are meant to.

These systems, and those manning them were, clearly mandated by the Congress leadership to take action in such matters, and were invested with the necessary powers to do so.

The real question is why did these fail? Was it lack of initiative, or political/ideological commitment? Or something else altogether?

Whatever the case may be, it is clear that they expected the leadership to take action, which is simply unfeasible in such a massive party as the Congress. It imposes unrealistic pressures on the leadership, which cannot be expected to assume all strategic and tactical responsibilities.


Brainstorming Needed

Ultimately, the Congress party will need to undertake a serious manthan on what, and how, they need to do things. Given the unprecedented crisis India is in, economic, social and political, and in a situation where the ruling dispensation is clearly untethered from constitutional and institutional norms, it is incumbent on the Congress to step up to the historic task at hand.

It needs to understand that unless it addresses the problems plaguing it, the nation and her people will pay a heavy cost.

Given its historical legacy, and for the simple reason that it is still the only organisation with the bandwidth and presence across the country to counter the darkness engulfing us, it needs to do whatever to be done, no matter the cost, to save the country’s soul.

(Pushparaj Deshpande is the Director of Samruddha Bharat Foundation, a think tank working with Congress and other like-minded parties. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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