Saturday, July 2nd, 2022 10:31:44

Decline and Demise of the Congress party

By Renu Mittal
Updated: December 2, 2020 6:26 pm

The congress came into existence for a reason. It brought together great men and women of stature, of ideas, of passion, of commitment, of a zeal to fight for independence. Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundations for a modern india, the creation of a socialist republic, the establishment of the public sector to meet the needs of the people but over time socialism became a dirty word with p v Narasimha rao laying the foundations of liberalisation, economic reforms, the moving towards right wing capitalism and gradually the decimation of the public sector.

 

The grand old party today is seen to be tottering. It’s shrinking, it’s in decline and to many it appears that it’s raison d’être ( its reason for living or exisiting) is no longer valid.

Nothing illustrates this more than the death of Ahmed Patel. While a large section was plunged deep into shock and disbelief believing that a huge body blow had been dealt to its very survival, there are those seen to be close to Rahul Gandhi who articulated the sentiment that this is the best thing which could have happened to the congress and now Rahul would be free to cast his own congress with his own perception, his own world view and his own choices.

The congress came into existence for a reason. It brought together great men and women of stature, of ideas, of passion, of commitment, of a zeal to fight for independence.

Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundations for a modern india, the creation of a socialist republic, the establishment of the public sector to meet the needs of the people but overtime socialism became a dirty word with p v Narasimha rao laying the foundations of liberalisation, economic reforms, the moving towards right wing capitalism and gradually the decimation of the public sector.

Jawaharlal Nehru also laid the foundation of the dynasty, with the Nehru Gandhi family becoming the first family of the congress, born to rule and forever ordained to stay in power.

That today is the crux of the problem which states at congress in the face: should the first family move away from the structures and comfort of power and give the party room to breathe and evolve and develop and shape itself into a fresh entity which can be relevant to the times.

If most of Nehru’s instruments created in those early days have today become irrelevant why then should the party continue with the edifice of the first family?

Simply because the Nehru-Gandhi family is the symbolic glue which has kept the party together. In the post Narasimha rao and post Sitaram kesri era when congress men had begun to leave in droves it was the entry of Sonia Gandhi which stemmed the flow and led to many of them returning to the mother ship under the name of a Nehru-Gandhi, even if by marriage. And it is that glue which has kept the party going till now, basically intact but nothing more beyond that under an ailing leader.

Never having been a cadre based or structured party, the problems in the congress began when Narasimha Rao as the compromise leader after the death of Rajiv Gandhi neglected the organisation and focussed on the loaves and fishes of office.

He affected a pact with Mayawati‘S Bsp in up which led to the party giving up a large number of seats and this loss only intensified in the years ahead.

The joke in the aicc headquarters at 24 Akbar Road in this days was that Narasimha Rao had gone to Aligarh to find the biggest lock ever made to put on the gates of the AICC.

That joke only strengthened during the days of Sitaram Kesri who turned out to be the joker in the pack and a man truly unworthy of the position he held.

Screaming and shouting he was removed from the Aicc by a team led by ahmed patel, overnight his name plate was removed and a reluctant Sonia Gandhi was persuaded to take charge as the congress president.

She became the longest serving congress president and till today continues in that post.

The good thing about Sonia Gandhi was that she knew and realised that she knows nothing about either politics or governance and therefore outsourced the running of the party to a coterie led by Ahmed Patel the man who has been called a Queen Maker by analysts, the man who ran the party on her behalf and in her name and the man who was virtually the de facto congress president in all the years when she ruled the congress.

Congress men have a different DNA. They need a Nehru-Gandhi at the helm since they believe that on a pan India level only they are recognised and can get them the votes. Congress men love power and as long as the votes keep coming in and they get elected they are happy.

They sincerely believe that life without a Gandhi would lead to a splintering of the party into various groups and that will spell doom for the congress.

During the UPA years dr Manmohan singh was the primeminister and Sonia Gandhi was the congress president. The two centres of power should have worked well but that was not the case.

Sonia Gandhi instead of focusing on matters of organisation and repairing and rebuilding the congress at the grass root level was more concentrated on keeping one foot in 7 Race Course Road the prime ministerial seat of power.

She did away with elections to the congress working committee, the apex decision making body of the congress where different leaders would weigh in with their experiences before crucial decisions were taken.

The CWC was filled with chut bhaiya leaders who had no standing to minimise the importance of the CWC. It was called only as an obituary reference body while the discussions and decisions were taken by. Core committee of a handful of leaders like Manmohan singh, Sonia Gandhi, ahmed patel, Pranab Mukherjee, a k Antony, p Chidambaram.

Sonia Gandhi was more focussed on having access to government files rather than the party organisation where block, district or PCcs lay vacant for years, there was no attempt to bring up grass root leaders or to create caste leaders which would serve the party well in the years to come.

There was no concept of accountability or responsibility. Sonia Gandhi was the quintessential status quoist who did not believe in making changes in office bearers irrespective of whether they were winning or losing elections. Mukul Wanik was incharge of rajasthan for 9 years , became very cosy with Ashok gehlot, had no time or interest to listen to dissidents within the party many of whom left and continued in his post even when the party lost badly. He still continues as general secretary even though he has presided over the loss of a number of states.

There are many like him. The message was that there was no accountability for your actions, win or lose.

The congress continued to shrink with some regional satraps passing away, some moving away like Sharad pawar, Mamta Banerjee and some were hounded out like jagan mohan reddy. All of them took away the congress space and created their own regional identities and empires and became rulers in their states.

At the time of the Shimla brain storming session when the call was given to build alliances and approach regional parties for tie ups, Pranab Mukherjee prepared a series of papers where in short he said the congress can take the short cut to power by building alliances and thereby ceeding its political space or it can take the long route to power by building its party from the grass root level, and making itself once again powerful in those states where it does not exist any more like Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and many other such states.

But congress men wanted the quick fix to power as hard work and long waits are not part of their body building system.

The congress did come to power in 2004 riding on the back of alliances whose architect was mainly Ahmed Patel at the back and Sonia Gandhi in the forefront and of course the anger against Atal Behari Vajpayee’s shining India campaign which created a back lash in poor of the country.

But the cost of those alliances can be seen today with congress shrinking in a large number of states proving Pranab Mukherjee right. But then who is listening?

Another problem facing the congress is corruption which again has seeped into its DNA. While the corruption of ministers in the UPA both of the congress and the allies is well known and well documented since dr Manmohan Singh became so attached to his prime ministerial chair he turned a blind eye to the corruption within his government afraid to rock the boat and create problems for himself.

What is however of more significance is the corruption which has made a deep home within congressmen. Very little is done without a kick back with congressmen believing in a policy of give and take. In many states tickets are distributed at the time of elections by being sold to the highest bidder, of leaders hating each other forming cartels and pushing through their own candidates irrespective of whether the candidate is a winnable one.

Many times this has cost the congress a number of seats which makes the difference between sitting in the opposition and forming a state government. The most recent example is of bihar where tickets were sold, wrong candidates given because of the patronage of some aicc secretary or other office bearer and no due diligence was done for the distribution of tickets. Avinash Pandey was the aicc general secretary in charge of rajasthan where there were a huge number of complaints against him but he was booted out as part of the agreement between the Gandhi siblings and Sachin pilot. But before you could say Jack Robinson Pandey was back in action as screening committee chairman for bihar polls and then he was sent as overall observer for the state. Here again there were a huge number of complaints against him but who was listening. The local leaders were angry that those who cannot win their own elections were being sent to teach them how to win elections. Randeep singh surjewala the latest blue eyed boy of Rahul Gandhi was supervising the elections having lost the last 5 elections and byelections. Rahul Gandhi has been appraised of what went wrong, who did what, who made money etc etc but so far nothing. There has been no reaction on the bihar defeat nor has there been an corrective or penal actions against those conspired to defeat the party.

This was exactly the way Sonia Gandhi ran the party and this is exactly what Rahul Gandhi is doing.

Even though mom Sonia is the congress president, the real time decisions are being taken by Rahul Gandhi say insiders in the party. Any political visitors to Sonia Gandhi were directed to go and meet Rahul Gandhi. The question being asked was why did he not upfront become the congress president rather than operating from behind the scenes and taking decisions in the name of his mother even as he has consistently refused to be the congress president.

And now the situation has become rather murky and uncomfortable for the gandhi’s and the party both.

Rahul has an aversion to the senior and experienced leaders of the party blaming them of perpetuating the status quo and not allowing him to take decisions. The man he blamed the most and liked the least was ahmed patel, sonia’s key lieutenant for many years and the man who led, guided and controlled the party.

The seniors in turn have an equal amount of aversion for Rahul Gandhi on a number of counts. They believe he wants to sideline them and bring in younger, inexperienced persons with who he has a comfort level.

They believe he is stubborn and believes he knows it all and does not need to listen to those who have put in decades and decades of their life in nurturing the party.

They believe he cannot be a match for narender modi and cannot win elections for the party, which is the basic essence of congressmen at any level and every lever. That in the popular perception Rahul has lost the battle and the stalled engine cannot be reignited.

They believe that Rahul is not a man of consensus but of confrontation unlike his mother who to a large extent believed in taking everyone along.

The letter written by the Group of 23 was in essence a move to stall Rahul gandhi’s ascension to the congress throne and there are many in the party who believe that ahmed patel and p Chidambaram were the energy and force behind the letter. It is also believed that patel would have negotiated with the gandhi’s and brought an honourable settlement for the senior leaders in the name of peace, love and peaceful co existence. Such was the magic of ahmed patel as seen in the three commitees made by Sonia Gandhi before his death where some so called dissenters were adjusted in the committees.

Sources say Rahul blamed ahmed patel for the letter at a time when his mother was not well and sources also said ahmed patel was deeply upset at Rahul. it is also believed that the falling out between patel and Rahul began when Rahul was bitterly opposed to his mother becoming the prime minister in 2004 when the leader had to be decided and in a closed door meeting ahmed patel and Rahul Gandhi had a bitter exchange of words.

Sonia Gandhi as a mother has a blind spot when it comes to her son Rahul Gandhi. She wants to see him settled in politics, to take over the legacy of the Nehru-gandhi family and head the congress party and finally become prime minister, a seat she believes can and should be occupied by a Gandhi from the times of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Sonia Gandhi is a practical, pragmatic, street smart woman. She knows that once the post of leader of the party is given up to a non Gandhi they may well be out of business and pushed to the sidelines of both the party and history. She needs Rahul to become congress president to keep the legacy alive and keep the family in power.

The one big mistake she made was to allow Priyanka Gandhi to come into the mainstream of congress politics, a move she had blocked for long despite the ambitions of her daughter and even more so her son in law Robert vadra who is a businessman but interferes in political decisions and appointments through his wife.

That day she created a parallel power centre which has damaged Rahul Gandhi and made his politics that much more difficult.

Despite his many drawbacks and down points Rahul Gandhi realized rather sensibly that there is an aversion to the Gandhi family rule and name and announced that a non Gandhi should become the party president and no one from his family would take the post. But who was listening. The mother and sister persuaded him not to be foolish and foolhardy and lo and behold Sonia Gandhi was back as interim congress president.

The party today is facing one of the worst crisis of its life. It is out of power in all the big oxygen giving states. Its numbers in lok sabha and now rajya sabha are dwindling by the day. Its leadership battle is wide open. Sonia Gandhi is almost 80 per cent over with the departure of ahmed patel. It hs become a party of self seeking leaders whp want power for the sake of keeping themselves in power. The party is today fragmented and may split as one unit or in various regional and state wise groups if the situation is not maturely handled and Rahul is allowed a free run. It does not know how to counter the communal hindu-muslim rhetoric unleashed by narender modi, which has been lapped up by various sections of the hindus and the middle classes. But most of all it does not have a leader who can stand and confront modi and take the party to the winning edge which congressmen require. A leader who can inspire confidence, bring in allies to its table and at the same time at least try and restore the congress to some of its lost glory.

There are others however who believe that maybe the time has come to wind up the congress party as it has outlived the mission of the independence movement. Just as Nehru’s policies and ideals have been swept away by the winds of change, maybe the congress needs to actually put that Aligarh lock on its door, particularly as it has failed to live up the expectations of crores of people of this country who want to see the back of the bjp and restore communal peace, economic upliftement, a dignified life for its poor and an end to the daily dramas and tamashas of igniting the flames of communal hatred.

The gandhis have repeatedly failed in that mission and now its time for them to sit across that dining table where key party decisions are taken and ensure that the congress is not limited to a private family firm.

 

By Renu Mittal

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