Revamping the Congress

A vibrant democracy needs not only a strong ruling party that can hold the country together and take it forward, it also needs a strong opposition party which can keep the functioning of the ruling party within constitutional bounds and prevent arbitrary acts of the government. The Congress was the ruling party for many decades. It has lost power at the Centre and in most of the States. Its importance, even as an effective opposition party, is on the wane in national politics. Since Indira Gandhi’s time, a peculiar Congress ‘culture’ has evolved in which the party chief, usually from the Nehru-Gandhi family, takes all the credits for success but (s)he is never held accountable for any failure like a massive electoral defeat. The responsibility for the failure is always shared by the ‘collective’ rather than by the party president.
This tradition of keeping the Nehru-Gandhi family above criticism is proving counter-productive for the party. Take the UP assembly elections in which the Congress has been all but washed out. UPCC chief Raj Babbar has accepted responsibility for the defeat and offered to quit. But not the party vice-president who is now the de facto party chief. It was Rahul Gandhi who was the Congress face of the alliance with the Samajwadi Party. In the fitness of things he should have voluntarily offered to resign and asked the party to choose a new leader. But he has not. What he has done is to give vague assurances of an organizational restructuring. He has not even talked of the urgency of grooming younger leaders for taking over the responsibility of running the party, which is still being shouldered by the elderly leaders, all of whom are above 70.
Then there is the inaccessibility of the top leadership of the party to the rank and file workers. In several States like Arunachal Pradesh or Manipur, local Congress workers who were unhappy with the State leadership complained of having failed to have an audience with the High Command and place their grievances before the top leadership. In the long run, many of them left the party to join the BJP. A more responsive and accessible High Command could have set things right early and brought about harmony in party functioning. Inability to do so has proved costly for the party. It is time for the Congress to realize that it can no longer go about in its old ways. The party president or vice-president has to accept responsibility for defeats and failures as well and introduce collective functioning by a younger leadership.

Friday, 17 March, 2017