Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 14:01:52

Can Congress be saved from self-destruction?

Updated: April 30, 2017 10:35 am

Indian National Congress, the grand national party, born with the idealism of achieving independence for India, is in serious doldrums.  It might survive or it could vanish from the Indian landscape due to its own misjudgement and absurd decision making. It has a great opportunity to emerge as major opposition but is uncertain if it will use it. A party that dominated Indian political scenario till almost 1989 is in a dire suicidal mode. In spite of ruling the country till 2014 with intermittent breaks, it failed to be a principal opposition in 2014-19 and failed to get sufficient number of 10 per cent seats in Lok Sabha to make a leader of opposition. The biggest jolt to the party came in the form of crusing defeats in five states which went to polls recently. The party is suffering from lack of direction and strategy crafting. Uttar Pradesh was a disaster for the party as it not only got reduced number of seats (7), less than last election, it also lost its family burroughs of Amethi and Raebareli. It might run desperately to find safe seats in 2019 election for its high command–Sonia Gandh and Rahul Gandhi. The question is being evaded by the party: Who is responsible for this? Punjab was success because of Capt Amrinder Singh and that has a lesson.  UP strategy was flawed from the very beginning–the Akhilesh-Rahul duo running a campaign in filmy style amused public yet it looked foolish to embrace each other without any cogent agenda. Congress should not have formed alliance with SP, as it was not likely to gain anything. But Rahul seemed desperate to get any support to break the series of defeats but this last straw too ruined the party. Running from consultants to any unprincipled alliances was not going to pay but no one in the party raised a voice to discourage him. In the process, both parties lost. There are five major lapses in the party working, which need urgent correction but no one seems to be bothered about it.

First, leadership vision and strategy are lacking. The party has enough talent, which it must groom instead of sticking to the rotten old heads, who have failed to deliver. What happened in the north-east is simply inability to spot the new talent available within the party and make use of it rather than being indifferent. The party leadership, due to inaccessibility even to senior leaders, has been reduced to the coterie rule. The party failed to see the mood of public, which does not appreciate negative politics of wasting Parliament sessions without productive work. The blind revenge became the strategy, whereas the party should have built a positive approach with long-term aim. Even in the coming Delhi Municipal elections, complaints are voiced by senior leaders that they are not heard or given proper consideration. High command culture must be replaced with professional culture. Leadership must be responsive.

The second flaw in working is lack of decision making or slow decision making. Typical case is Goa, where total confusion in coming to terms with alliance was witnessed and in spite of being the largest party they failed to form the government. Look at the efficiency of BJP, who, within two days, made a Central Minister resign and take over in Goa after forming an alliance. They proved their majority later also. Now Rahul or Moily calling it theft, which is a poor response to the drubbing they received and their own failure to decide the next step.

The third drawback today is great dearth of leaders with communication skills. Given a lead by Rahul, everyone started running down Modi or using language, which they thought is funny enough to insult him. Modi too used objectionable words in communication but he was skilful enough to give them some kind of credence. Strangely ,Congress leaders like Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal, Surjewala, Poonawala, etc, tried to hit Modi below the belt but it did not have any impact on the public mind as these speakers, unlike Modi, had lost credibility in the past or during the election campaign. Only one person who mattered for credibility for the public was Shashi Throor, who  did not indulge in vituperative attacks.

He could have been an acceptable voice. But he did not have any central role to play or even his talent and expertise was not used by the party. Talent is not respected by the party, which was my own experience too as new ideas and competence is not in demand rather politically amiable people and psychophants dominated the scenario.

Famous Chinese General Sun Tzu said in his book Art of War: “If you know yourself and not the enemy, you will lose every alternative war but if you don’t know the enemy and yourself you will lose every war.” The fourth major fault in the party lies in its inability to elicit participation of regional and local leaders, which renders it ignorant of ground situation. It cost the party the north-east and other states, where those who left the party to taste success in BJP bitterly complained about inaccessibility and opacity of the high command.   Take the case of Punjab. Captain Amrinder Singh was not being openly touted as the Chief Minister candidate in the beginning. Navjot Singh Siddhu was, in between, sought after as new hope for the party till Captain put his foot down. Why couldn’t Captain be identified as fit to lead from the front as CM candidate from very beginning? Avoidable confusion and hazy steps finally blunt the weapons of war. Congress could have got absolute majority in other states too, had it been clear in its strategy and fast in action. The real reason was that Congress did not know in reality its own strength or weaknesses, nor did it know the strength and weaknesses of its enemy. Congress must open the doors of communication and allow regional leaders the greater say.

It is difficult to conclude from Punjab case that regional leaders should be left free to perform. Both Punjab and Himachal and other states had examples of success and failure of the leading chiefs. In Punjab, Captain himself lost despite his confidence in the last election when no one expected the Akali-BJP alliance to win. The same had happened earlier in Himachal Pradesh, when Virbhadra Singh lost to P.K. Dhumal. Even now, in spite of complexity of situation by entry of AAP, the Akali-BJP alliance got substantial votes and more than AAP. The real secret of successful strategy is marrying regional aspirations with central command. But to command, the Centre must display sagacity and competence.

The fifth flaw in Congress is failure in organisation building and dependence on loyal courtiers. There is no involvement of grassroots workers and no genuine elections for internal democracy.  In fact, the party is working as a commercial company but without genuine board of directors and shareholders. It is more or less a family company. There is lot of criticism of the party due to dynastic nature of its succession but I consider it not as lethal damage to democracy as failure to hold meritocracy above board in the working of the party. Congress has failed to groom young leaders and sustain old trustworthy guiding lights. Majority of their leaders including chief ministers are charged with scams. There is no effort to bring in clean and transparent leaders to take over in the party with the result the same tarnished people who have lost credibility are being projected as defenders of the party issues. Rahul Gandhi made a sincere effort for transparent elections and brought in J.M. Lyndgoh, who was known for his integrity. But all his effort went in vain as system had become full of manipulations.

I am witness to the cases where no organisational election is held but results are declared because some influential leader has brazen pluck to forge results even when district returning officer stated in writing that no election was held. Worse, when an appeal was filed to the high command, which had to dispose it off within 30 days, there had been no response for years. The higher ups are indifferent to party workers’ grievances and appeals. There are internal quarrels in the districts and blocks, but no one makes effort from the top to settle this. Inner fights continue and almost all districts have such vocal dissenters. Party workers have now learnt to put up with injustice and brazen,dadagiri of influential leaders especially in remote areas.  The system of grievance redress and appeal is defunct and its own party constitution is dead. Should party not revive the justice and fair play? Should honesty and commitment to ideology not be promoted? Should Congress not value and respect capable people of proven merit in the organisation? My reading is that the party organisation in most of the places is dead and the party needs to re-build it. Simply calling names to Modi will not demolish him, nor will strengthen the Congress, as no one likes it.  But will Congress do it or bite the dust?

(The writer is former Chairman, International Airports Authority of India.)  

By N.K. Singh

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