Congress Needs Introspection For Future Road Map
Buffeted by strong winds, sharp attacks from outside and deepening voices of concern from within, sections of the Congress party have begun to question the direction and future road map of the party and are of the considered view that if the Congress has to make a serious bid to be re-elected in 2014 as well as win a substantial number of assemblies, the party leadership would need to give up its current thinking and maybe go back to the days of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Concerned about its ongoing trend of losing elections, the thinking is growing amongst Congress leaders that the time has come to empower regional satraps, hand over the states to them, give them power and privilege to manage the states and in turn demand that they deliver in terms of votes win the state assemblies and put up a credible showing in the Lok Sabha polls.
With three years to go for the Lok Sabha elections and a host of state assemblies to face elections, arithmetic has already begun in the homes of Congress leaders and going by the current position, most calculations are falling far short of even the 200 mark, which they say is the bare minimum required if Rahul Gandhi has to become the prime minister.
Apart from advocating a change in the inner dynamics of the party, senior leaders are also looking at a change in alliance partners to reach the essential 200 if not 272, the majority mark. Having won just four seats in the state assembly, senior leaders say the leadership should make overtures to Nitish Kumar in Bihar, wean him away from the BJP-NDA and bring him into the UPA fold. The assessment is that he would be able to perform well even in the next Lok Sabha elections since the Congress is not recovering lost ground and nor is Lalu Yadav, who is no longer seen as a credible option.
In Tamil Nadu, the leadership is being told to make up with Jayalalithaa who is on the rise at the moment, and if the Congress is to do well in Tamil Nadu, it has no option but to dump the DMK and go with the AIADMK, said a senior leader who sees the Jayalalithaa charisma to be intact even by the next Lok Sabha polls.
But the issue on which there is the maximum agreement and convergence of views is on Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is seen as the man who can make or break the party’s fortunes in Andhra Pradesh. There is near consensus on the fact that even if Jagan himself cannot win a large number of seats, he has the capability and wherewithal to ensure the defeat of Congress candidates. A large section is becoming vocal and advising the leadership to bring Jagan back into the Congress party, in the interest of retaining power in Andhra Pradesh and wining Lok Sabha seats.
Sources say that Digvijay Singh has already made contact with Jagan Mohan Reddy and is in touch with him. Singh wants to bring about a meeting of Jagan and his mother with Sonia Gandhi by the monsoon session of Parliament as a prelude to bringing him back to the party.
A senior party leader said that if the leadership has to give Jagan a big position in the state politics, it should do so as he has a large number of his father’s followers with him both within the party and outside it and can be groomed to become a big leader.
Has the time come to drop pigmies and non-entities who have been given shoes which are too large for them and instead bring back strong regional satraps who can lead from the front rather be just dummies for the Delhi durbar which controls the states and does not want to let go of power?
This question is already being heard in the Congress power centres as the worry grows that neither Sonia nor Rahul can bring in the votes like Indira Gandhi could.
A senior leader said that it was Indira Gandhi, who began the process of shunting out regional satraps and instead replace them with yes men and those with no roots or support base. But they argue that she managed to get away with it because she herself was a vote catcher and the party rode to power on the back of her various actions and populist slogans along with the right caste equations as well as her personal rapport with the people.
When Rajiv Gandhi tried the same tactics, he brought the party strength down from 400 plus seats to less than 200, in the process losing power at the centre. Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi neither have the rapport with the people nor the communication skills to get the message across to the people. The Congress leadership from Manmohan Singh to Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi is largely seen as silent, distant individuals who do not speak even on the most crucial issues, leaving it to the spokesmen to convey what they want.
Along with this, the managers of Sonia Gandhi are men and women who wield enormous power both in the government and in the party since she is seen to be dependent on them on a large number of choices which are made of both persons and policies. As one senior leader put, “The time has come to put an end to the culture of promoting non-entities and rootless wonders and bring in the real men and women who can bring in the votes.”
But the flip side to this argument is that strong leaders may not take dictation from the managers of Sonia Gandhi but communicate directly with the leader. This would decrease the clout and power of the managers who are happy to convince the leadership that strong leaders may pose a threat to the leadership itself, that they may become too big for their boots and that they would run their own fiefdoms etc.. etc.
For example, a classic case is that of the Himachal Pradesh strongman Raja Virbhadra Singh. Efforts have been on for some time to sideline the Virbhadra Singh from state politics, so much so that there is a strong move to remove him from the Cabinet also. Instead rootless wonders who have never won an election and cannot bring in even half a seat, men like Anand Sharma, are being promoted by the managers of the party leadership. As one CWC member put it, “You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the day they remove Virbhadra Singh, Congress in Himachal Pradesh would go the way of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
In Madhya Pradesh the party failed to rise under the leadership of Suresh Pachauri. What is needed, said a state leader, is the return of a strong leader like Digvijay Singh to bring the state back into the Congress fold.
Gujarat has been similarly weakened by a battalion of weak kneed leaders with the party floundering to give even a semblance of a fight to Narendra Modi.
Sources say that discussions have begun in small groups over the manner in which the party and even the government have been hit on all sides, eroding its credibility, diminishing its leadership and undoing the good amount of work done in the last seven years. The lack of a clear and communicating leadership appears to be hitting the Congress hard. A former chief minister said that even if Sonia Gandhi does not speak, Rahul Gandhi can have the same impact if he voices the party’s voices on a number of issues, but he lamented that there was silence even from him.
In one-to-one exchanges with Sonia Gandhi, some of these issues have been brought to her notice but sources say that the influence of the managers is so strong that for the moment it looks unlikely that any radical steps may be taken to bring the party back on the rails and give a new orientation to the power play in the Congress.
By Renu Mittal