In Indian politics, the Congress has understandably always enjoyed a place of prominence. However, what is not intelligible is the abysmally low level of expectations that people have allowed it to enjoy for decades. A section of the media and Congress have a special relationship. It has made Congress commit a huge number of mistakes and, yet, easily get away with them.
On GST, Congress’ ill-advised strategy of putting spokes on unreasonable grounds was torpedoed by its own finance ministers and yet this dichotomy didn’t attract any criticism. Another latest example is the affidavit which the Congress had compelled its newly-elected MLAs in West Bengal to sign. In the “affidavit to the Congress president” all the legislators swore their “unqualified allegiance” to the party, led by its president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Consider, if a similar episode had happened within the BJP or any other party, the brouhaha over it would have been manifold. But people have different standards for different parties. In the process, due to the needless tolerance towards all wrong things in Congress, damage is done not only to the India’s GOP but also to other political parties, which form an integral part of the democratic institution.
Need to Re-Invent
As a student of democracy, it is painful to see the state of affairs in the Congress. Back-to-back electoral setbacks is certainly a cause of concern for Congressmen. But more serious is the ‘Crisis of Purpose’ in which the Congress finds itself. Regardless of what the party leadership thinks, it is a fact that the party’s ability to attract new cadres has sharply declined. Except for traditional Modi baiters, Congress doesn’t seem to be attracting any young followers, whether online or offline. It has no new narrative to shape, no new slogan to give, much less any new policy to propose.
Congress today sadly mirrors an old, historic palace of a sardar, the progeny of whom successfully survived for decades on accumulated wealth, the coffers of which have been emptied and since there are no new earnings, people residing in the palace find it hard to survive. Unless the party decides to reinvent itself, it has a bleak future.
Reasons for this sordid state of affairs are not far to seek. The lifeline of any political party that considers itself as a living organism is its ideology.
Sadly, in a country with hundreds of political groups, dynasty and non ideology-based parties form the majority that matters. Over the years, the Congress has completely de-ideologised itself.
With that, it has lost a sense of purpose. With the purpose missing, there is no new rallying point. It was natural that the decline of party organisation, leading to a loss of popular mandate, followed.
The beginning of this crisis in Congress dates back to the late 50s. Veterans recall that just 10 years after independence, a satirical couplet became very popular among Congressmen. It went something like this, “Chune to Minister, Gire to Governor, Nahi to Vice Chancellor, aur kuchh nahin to Sarvoday hai hi” (Minister if you win election, Governor if you do not, otherwise a Vice Chancellor and if nothing Sarvodaya is always there for everybody). But that’s water under the bridge now.
In 1955, at its Awadi session, the Congress officially adopted socialist economic model, rendering a variety of socialist parties irrelevant. However, for Congress, socialism never became an article of faith.
There was no consistency in its policies possibly because Jawaharlal Nehru himself never saw any virtue in it. With the imposition of Emergency, Congress’ commitment to democracy became convincingly hollow. The Shah Bano case almost completely destroyed whatever remaining credibility Congress had on secularism — their pet theme. Hardly anyone was worried of this ideological bankruptcy as post-Indira Gandhi, the party speedily marched to become a pure dynastic party. The Narsimha Rao years gave Congress an opportunity to become organisation-centric rather than dynasty-dependent. But the party wasted it almost wantonly.
The moot question is: What is the purpose for which the Congress today is honestly or genuinely working in a convincing manner? Political parties are evolved democratic institutions and are not supposed to remain just ‘election contesting machines’. They are expected to work for lofty ideals, outlining distinctive policies rooted in their professed ideologies and later achieving cherished goals when in power.
Congress today can lay claim to none of these. If we take any of the ideals of secularism, socialism or democracy, there is hardly any demonstrable evidence to suggest that the party wants to abide by them uncompromisingly. Governance was never a strong point in the Congress’ profile. Policies professed by several Congress governments, whether at the Centre or in the states, too have not left an indelible mark of Congress philosophy.
On the Verge of Irrelevance
- Not just electoral setbacks, the Congress is afflicted by a ‘Crisis of Purpose’ that involves failure to highlight substantive issues.
- The party organisation also seems to be in a
mess with Congress being unable to attract youngsters to its fold.
- Congress’ inability to come up with a policy
alternative has further eroded its national stature.
- Despite declaring socialism as its goal at
the Avadi session in 1955, there hasn’t been any consistency in policies even
in states where it’s in power.
Culture of Sycophancy
Naturally then, although Devkant Baruah is no more, the culture of mindless sycophancy that he symbolised, continues to thrive in the party. Congress workers believe that dynasty worship is the only rope for them to climb up. No one in the Congress today can imagine a party minus the Gandhi family. The fate of this 130-year-old party is thus, seemingly, hopelessly intertwined with that of the Gandhi family.
This has added to the ‘crisis of purpose’. Tragically, with talks about Rahul Gandhi’s much-awaited coronation around, the million dollar question is who can serve as oxygen and for whom? Party for a dynasty or dynasty for a party?
(The writer is BJP Vice-President and a Rajya Sabha MP. He can be reached at @vinay1011)