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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Is Anyone In The Congress Party Listening?

Team Being Cynical
In a candid interview to PTI Jairam Ramesh quite poignantly stated something that no one in the Congress party wants to hear. “Congress is facing an existential crisis” he said. The sultanate has gone, but we behave as if we are sultans still, he added. Kudos to JR for being honest and amative to the ground realities than fanning that ‘all is well’ jamboree. It is a step in the right direction if at all the party harbours any realistic idea of revival in our political discourse. But is anyone really listening to Mr. Ramesh at all? I doubt though and I have my reasons to believe so. Though this is very brave coming from a Congressman, there is nothing new to what Jairam Ramesh said. Not only that, this very un-congress like adventure appears futile too. The fact finding committee headed by AK Antony after the 2014 general election debacle said as much; albeit in a different tone and tenor. Did anything change after that? None of the recommendations that were suggested in that report seems to have been implemented. For someone not belonging to the party or the ecosystem therein, I see no difference in the Congress party of 2014 and the Congress party of today. It is still the same barring few ‘young turks’ now taking a little more responsibilities at odd instances.

Honestly it gives an impression as if Congress as a party is too rigid for changes, even if they are for the betterment of the party. Whether it is because of the culture of the party that is too deep-rooted to be shaken up or the people who matters are simply too lethargic and hypocritical to see the writing on the walls is still debatable and the jury is already out on this.

A larger view of the said political outfit post its inception, which is the Indira Congress [Congress(I)], not the original Congress, throws interesting observations. Affording no exception it has one fascinating thing in common in every era – somehow individuals were always kept above the party interest. And most of the time those individuals belong to just one family or at best to many such families spread across the party. For long the internal affairs of the party has gone so individualistic that it at times even look enigmatic that the outfit could survive so long without going into a self-destruction mode. But has that miracle exhausted its longevity finally? Perhaps yes and looking at the manner the party is pugnaciously reluctant to carry out the necessary changes to remain relevant, it only safe to conclude that the party looks at the bottom of the political barrel in short term and complete oblivion in the long run. But has the leadership of the party really gone so bankrupt with its foresight?

Frankly, there is no dearth of foresight in the party but then, we are discussing the Congress party and it always was what it is today – "the Congress party". For reasons best known to the leadership team, they are extremely repugnant to the idea of grooming and encouraging good leaders. Grooming good leaders among them to lead tomorrow or cover all the spectrum of the present day political demands isn’t that a popular sentiment within the party and its leadership. Since the time of Lalbahadur Shastri, the leadership ladder remained pretty much pre-occupied. It in fact is kind of reserved for people coming out from one single family, irrespective of their skills, qualities and competence level or the lack of all three. There is a pre-defined shoe in the Congress constitution it seems. Any leader growing bigger than that is systematically side-lined at best and culled at the worst. The system never lets any leader to flourish beyond a certain limit. The latest victim of this systematic culling is the ex-Delhi CM Ms. Shiela Dixit. The negative campaign for Ms. Dixit that went around within her own during Delhi election can’t be attributed to the rebel souls alone. It was more like a methodical and planned sabotage by the party itself. But then, this is what Congress was since the time of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Somehow Mrs. Gandhi thrived on the principle of keeping every damn power thread in her own hands. She was a great believer in having a bunch of yes-men around her. She routinely handpicked best of human resources within the party and deployed them as part of her inner circle to nod alongside her for every good as well as every bad.

This inner circle enjoyed best of power and everything else with an unsaid promise that they never would aim for the throne. The culture of sycophancy that one can safely associate with the Congress party germinated right there. Those who were not part of this inner circle were routinely deprived from being part of the Congress’s growth story. Either they were never heard upon or out rightly shunted out. This is precisely why one can hardly remember anyone other than Indira Gandhi from that Congress era. This left no genuine leadership at the state level to carry forward the Congress legacy at the grassroots. This resulted in a big void at the state level with no one to fill in. One of the primary reasons why the concept of ‘regional outfits’ took shape. If one would mark, most of the current day leaders of these regional parties were erstwhile Congressmen. They left the party in disgust and formed their own. Now today when it is needed the most, Congress finds no one at the state level that they can count upon. Who is to be blamed here? The culture of yes-men that Mrs. Gandhi started was natured with great care and continued till the present day. If it was Durga Prasad Dhar for Mrs. Indira Gandhi it is Ahemad Patel for Sonia Gandhi today. Only the names have changed while the culture and the genetic equation remained the same for the party. In one sentence, Congress as a party has negligible or even zero evolution.

Being privy to the fact, I can vouch for one thing. If nothing, Congress at least should learn the way BJP managed itself after the 2004 surprising election loss. After 2004 it appeared like a dead-end for BJP. With its core leadership in Atalbihari Vajpyee, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others at their fag end of political career it was even double gloomy. At that time the RSS laid out a five pointer plan for revival and they set a timeframe of ten years to achieve that. The very first point in the charter was to nurture state level leadership with a promise and commitment that the road to the top is always open for the deserving, with or without any surname. Narendra Modi, Shivraj Singh, Dr. Raman Singh and BS Yeddurappa were listed as the first line of leaders with a clear-cut elevation plan. Poor Pramod Mahajan was in the list too but his untimely demise left a void. All these leaders, though they were early in their respective political careers, given ample space and opportunity to express themselves. For a better part of that ten year plan, BJP as a party was advised to get rid of the typical ‘high-command’ culture that other parties were having. It was in fact another point in the five-point charter. All had a say in the national polity and all got their due exposer. Now we can see what that effort has led to at the end of the day. Each one of them, barring may be Yeddurappa, are pan-India leaders on their own merit. It is bringing brilliant political dividends too. A simple majority to BJP on its own was as much impossible without a clean sweep in Madhya Pradesh as without a certain Narendra Modi in Gujarat. All these grassroots leaders complemented each-other and still doing. And the party is far from over from its plan. The second level of leaders in Adityanath, Smriti Irani, Manohar Parikar and Arun Jaitley are already being pushed into prominence. Where is Congress with in between all this and where are their strategies as a political counter offense? Unfortunately I see none.

Forget about any counter offensive, Congress in fact has landed itself in complete disarray in the same time frame. No thoughts, no road map and certainly no revival policy, knowing very well that they are on a downhill slope for quite some time. They still are running around that single family as they used to do forty years back. Rahul Gandhi as their virtual head makes no sense in whichever way you look at it but yet the entire machinery is blind enough to realize that. It is not that there is a drought with good leaders in the party. In one of my posts after 2014 elections I was very critical of the manner in which Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora lost their respective constituencies. In fact I was displeased with their losses. But what these two leaders were reduced to today? I can hardly remember these two ever been active in the Congress decision making. It is Rahul Gandhi all over the place. Even today one would struggle to put his/her fingers on any leader of prominence other than Rahul Gandhi from the Congress block. Sticking true to her grandmother’s ideologies, RG too had built a cosy yes-men circle around him. All the promising leaders were clipped off their true potential and rendered sycophantic to serve just one person while the party requires their service somewhere else. Those who don’t belong to this circle are discarded like lose changes. Hemanta Biswa Sharma is a classic example how Congress treats those who aren’t part of this yes-men brigade. The man in question could have won them Assam again. We saw that on the state's counting day. But whom the so called high-command preferred over this potential winner? Yes, another seasoned yes-man in Tarun Gagoi, who in all probability would never add any value to the party in future; not that he ever added any value in the past. This is how individualistic the party becomes during crunch decision making times. It reflects the characteristics of the party. Party interest gives a surprising miss in the scheme of things and it always does. Overburdening themselves with such unimaginable incompetency has led to a situation where there are no credible names in the party that can win them elections. To even get a simple majority in the lower house you would require 272 seats and I am sure Rahul Gandhi along with the entire syndicate would struggle to put their fingers on 272 names from the party ranks that would win their respective seats. As a whole the Congress party has reduced itself to a family affair. It is all about one family or the other and it is no surprise that you only can win as many as 44 seats together.

Non-promoting people to position of authority and decision making are just part of the problem. An authoritarian and ‘me’ centric Indira Gandhi could survive because she was a great leader by all means, which unfortunately is not the case with Rahul Gandhi. All the more reason why Congress finds itself at the middle of nowhere today. Indira Gandhi was a great motivator too. In contrast Rahul Gandhi is a reluctant leader and even a more reluctant manager. How big a motivator he is , is best left unsaid. He always gives that impression of a ‘party animal’ that was forced to complete his Chartered Accountant’s course. As William Dalrymple put it - tongue-tied and dimwit. For every critical situation that the party finds itself in, the leader in Rahul Gandhi scavenges for excuses to evade the situation. Worst even, if no excuses comes handy, he flies out of India for vacation. He has done it time-and-again, yesterday being the latest example of his evading leadership qualities. Prestige was at stake and the entire party machinery was doing the fire-fighting while the leader in Rahul Gandhi never even found it reasonable to attend the working committee meeting on the same. For the entire evening he was nowhere to be seen. I can’t even imagine myself going to Goa on a vacation when one of my projects is in a critical stage and my entire team is slogging on it to resurrect. And here is a person who is projected as the PM candidate of the grand old party.

Other than building a pool of leaders for every stage, Congress must also introspect on their political narratives as well. Which worked during 70s and 80s may not work today. This is called evolution and I am surprised that a seasoned party like Congress has totally given this aspect a miss. For every problem ‘communalism vs secularism’ can’t be the answer. In Rahul Gandhi’s world every answer may start with women empowerment and secularism but that is not what the voters expect from their government. What people want is a roadmap while all that Congress at present can offer is a family. I agree, even the family and its constituents were of interest for the voters in the past but no more. The political narrative of Congress must contain the citizens which they are far from doing. In the name of the citizens and their welfare, the only thing that is coming out of Congress party is ‘Gareebi Hatao’. I agree, ‘Gareebi Hatao’ worked like a charm for Indira Gandhi but it won’t work today. The expectations have changed over the years. The ‘secularism’ narrative has outlived its life cycle too. It was flogged so viciously in last 10 years that there is no life left in it anymore. To the utter despair of the Congress party, the political aces aren’t now limited to just binaries that add no substance to people’s expectations. It has to be whole. You may call it ‘Joomla’ in an attempt at self-gratification but that is what actually is winning elections for the other party. People used to vote looking at the name in earlier days but the outlook of the voters have gone through a sea of changes since then. The political parties must change accordingly. It is perform or perish now and it is only strange that Congress seems to have decided on the later.

Hope, for a change, wise words of Jayram Ramesh is taken seriously by the party. I would be thoroughly disappointed if this man is hanged like the earlier ones for whispering the truth in the ears of the Congress leadership. Yesterday's win of Ahemad Patel in Gujarat Rajya Sabha must not let the yes-men drive Rahul Gandhi to the disillusion that the recipe for the revival is arrived at finally. It ain't. After having 57 MLAs of their own the party scratched every possible bottom to get even 44 seats that were required. This is not a matter of joy but a matter of huge concern. 

By the way; did Jayram Ramesh just whispered in the ears or showed a big and spotless mirror to the Congress party? Perhaps time ahead will answer this one.    

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