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Why Rahul Gandhi’s internal democracy has failed

Monday, 23 June 2014 - 7:31am IST Updated: Sunday, 22 June 2014 - 6:31pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
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Homeopathy  is  a holistic cure  going  into the root cause of  the  malady, but a terminally ill cancer patient cannot  be healed  just by sugar-coated  pills. Rahul Gandhi’s obsession with “internal democracy” in  the  Congress  at a  time the party is  gasping for breath  is akin to trying to revive an advanced  cancer patient with  homeo treatment. Rahul  is  an odd man out in the murky world of politics talking about internal democracy  and his initiative  may have been welcomed in normal times.  But the Grand Old Party is facing its worst-ever  crisis  and  the democratisation process  will take at least a decade to fructify.  What the party needs  now  is a major surgery.  Only once the patient is able to walk, can the doctor think of a long-term   therapy.  Internal democracy can wait. 

Rahul  was anointed AICC general secretary in charge of Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India in 2007 and to his credit, he democratised the two youth bodies. However, his  fixation with internal elections in the parent party, NGO and corporate style politics (some ideas though  good), created confusion in the 128-year-old party and  alienated  a  large chunk of traditional  workers.  Some exasperated  workers  had been warning, in private of course, that the party cannot win elections by overriding traditional politics and that  the Gandhi scion has got his priorities wrong. 
Ten years down the line,   the  IYC and NSUI have not produced a single leader of national or state standing. The current and remaining   crop of grassroots leaders such as  Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma et al were the products of the Sanjay Gandhi era Youth Congress. After the untimely death of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, the party did not bother to create a second line of leadership.  PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri who controlled the party for a decade till 1998, were busy fighting a turf war.
In the intervening period many capable leaders met with an untimely death and a few aging leaders were packed off to the Raj Bhavans,  that had become sort of geriatric wards.  As a corollary, the party faced a severe talent crunch while the family grip weakened.  Hitherto, the dynasty and leadership (states level in particular) complimented each other in winning electoral battles. When the party is routed, the dynasty blames the leaders and the latter  fault  the family, albeit  in a veiled manner. Though the party groomed several young leaders including  Milind Deora,  Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, RPN Singh,  Rajeev Shukla, Ajay Maken,  Pradeep Jain, Arun Yadav (all were made ministers) none emerged a big leader in their respective states. 
The raison d’etre of a political party is to win seats.  Nobody was expecting the Congress to win the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, but even its worst foes did not imagine the party tally to dip below 50. Howsoever well-intentioned   Rahul Gandhi may be;  is  internal democracy a  panacea for all that ails the Congress? Parties which did exceedingly well in the recent elections  —  the  BJP, Trinamool Congress and the AIADMK — do not boast of internal democracy.  Modi, Mamata and Jayalalithaa  called the shots and they won the polls by smart strategies and building on the anti-incumbency, anti-UPA mood in the country. 
At the basic level, a  party should have charismatic, mass leaders, strong machinery in states, sharp political and media (social media in particular) management and  smart  alliances. Barring the family triumvirate  at the national level,  the Congress  has no charismatic leaders  in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat,  Odisha accounting for 318 Lok Sabha seats. Can bringing in internal democracy rectify this   incongruity?  Not in the foreseeable  future.  
The writer is a political commentator




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