Losing the plot

It has been about a month now since the Congress Party let the doors of its laundry open. The dirty linen continues being washed in public. With this the festering contradictions, confusions, compromises and complacencies within the ‘Grand Old Party of India’ have flashed onto the scenes–yet again. It may be a moment of heartbreak for the loyalists of the Party, but it definitely is a moment of disappointment for the loyalists of democracy. A democracy with a supine, rudderless opposition and a vain government is a ‘democracy in recession’, and willy-nilly ushers into an ‘elected autocracy’.

The crisis in Rajasthan doesn’t betray the heroes and villains of the Congress Party. It is not that easy an arithmetic. Gehlot and Pilot embody two standpoints within the Congress which are not necessarily right or wrong in entirety. A party which has witnessed its decline from an illustrious past to an uncertain future carries with itself vestiges of nostalgia and hopelessness as a single undertaking. There is inbuilt conservatism and radicalism concomitantly rocking the ship of Congress. The irreconcilability of restrain and restlessness is further complicating the matters. And for want of an immediate redress and internal reprogramming, the Party is losing its devout members, along with the plot.

So what is wrong with the Congress?

Keeping aside the philosophical dimension of it, the crisis in humanist, liberal and secular ideological paradigm (which is a worldwide trend today), some specific and immediate reasons can explain the recession of Congress. Suhas Palshikar, an eminent political scientist, has given an interesting chronology in this regard. According to him, the Congress has seen a phase of hegemony (Nehruvian years) before descending into a stage of confrontation (1967-1989). Immediately after this the phase of survival ensued (1989-2014). Palshikar is categorical in claiming that 2014 marks the ‘demise of Congress’, let alone “the decline”. The transition through all these years has been characterised by a multitude of factors–some persisting till date.

Firstly, a million dollar question of leadership. After Rahul Gandhi unceremoniously left as the Congress president last year, the Party has an interim president at the helm. It is symptomatic of a contingency driven approach and gives a vibe of a lack of commitment. This undoubtedly doesn’t auger well for the Party.

Secondly, a wave of disillusionment after successive defeats in Lok Sabha elections. As a result of this, many among its members feel demoralised and disenchanted. Hope and optimism lie in tatters and a kind of laxity has taken root in the Party.

Thirdly, as pointed out by Sanjay Jha (the recently suspended member of the Congress), the formation of cabals, coteries and caucuses. In Jha’s words, “Congress is a Jurassic”. This means an internal muscle flexing in order to usurp whatever little power is left within the Party. The Congress therefore epitomises an expedient confederacy of mutually discordant interests groups.

Fourthly, the high-command culture, by which functionaries right up to the district level could be enthroned and even dethroned through diktats coming from the 24 Akbar Road, New Delhi (Congress Headquarters). This has hurt the ego of many regional Congress strongmen (including Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is now in BJP). Interestingly enough, this over-centralised culture is now gradually finding acceptance within BJP as well.

Fifthly, the ideological ambivalence. It used to be the strength of the Party earlier but with more coherent ideologies gaining ground elsewhere (after Mandalisation and Mandirisation of Indian politics), a lack of sellable ideology is rendering the Congress unattractive and redundant. To have a clearer picture of this, one can read in detail Yogendra Yadav’s description about “successive democratic upsurges in India” and their impact on Indian politics.

Lastly, a bunch of other reasons: the loss of touch with the grassroots and the idiom that forms an intrinsic part of it, withering away of loyalty, diminishing capacity for patronage (as mentioned by Mani Shankar Aiyar in one of his articles), identification with minorities (especially Muslims) and the burgeoning role of money power in Indian politics (BJP having a clear advantage here) have gone into the making of the Congress’ fiasco.

In all likelihood the current crisis facing the Congress Party may not be its last. Before it is too late, the Party should see the writing on the wall and set its house in order. Allowing itself to be let down by the momentary vicissitudes of the contemporary (competitive) politics, the Congress will be doing a great disservice to its legacy and to the forefathers of the modern India. No one can forget how in recent times the Party was caught in a bind over issues like Article 370, Ram Mandir and EWS reservation. That it has failed to do justice lately to the role of the opposition is hardly lost on anyone.

As a strong and a bold opposition is an indispensable pillar of a flourishing democracy, the Congress will have to rise to the occasion. Its survival and resuscitation is important not just for the party itself but for the viability of the Indian political system as a whole.


Post Script: Typecasting is a conspicuous element of the Indian politics. The Prime Minister with a five-star lifestyle walks off as a ‘fakeer’ while Rahul Gandhi, despite being too good for politics, has not been able to exorcise himself of the imposed ‘pappu’ moniker. It is clear that Congress, apart from an image makeover, needs a brand enhancement strategy.

(The author is B Tech  from NIT Srinagar, also JRF in Political Science and International Relations)