The Congress did not evoke any sympathy even in defeat. The party which had led a coalition government did not seem to understand what really went wrong. Though party president Sonia Gandhi asked for candid and fearless assessments, none were forthcoming. She offered to “relinquish her post”. She also hinted that perhaps the party failed to understand the changing aspirations of the younger people. It looks like she has been badly briefed and that the senior leaders in the party have not understood the real problem.
The failure to communicate the achievements of the government was only a small part of the problem. What has not been mentioned is that the electoral verdict is an expression of people’s anger, and this anger was about corruption, inflation and unemployment. Until the Anna Hazare movement erupted and rocked UPA II, the Congress would not talk about it. It was always a knee-jerk response, and the best example was the manner in which the Lokpal Bill was passed in the two Houses of Parliament. It is not enough to say that those charged with corruption were dropped from cabinet, or to take shelter behind coalition compulsions. It was not the new generation and the generation aspirations of the young that brought the party down.
The Congress leaders believe that they can win over the people by speaking on irrelevant issues like secularism and socialism, which have lost their resonance. If the Congress had been serious about taking on the BJP and its PM candidate Narendra Modi, it should have harped on the challenges of the market economy and how the Congress under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s and under PV Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s had transformed India and how it had fired the imagination of the people and created the atmosphere of aspirations. Instead, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul attacked Modi and his divisive politics. Modi attacked the family but his main plank was development. The people cannot be blamed for choosing the man and the party that harped on development. Congress leaders have to realise that they have demeaned the concept of ‘secularism’ and that the Muslims were put off by the Congress’s attempts to create a fear psychosis about Modi and BJP. It did not work.
To borrow from economics, the problem with the Congress is structural. The party is stuck in a leadership model that does not allow new talent to contribute and dominate the organisation. It is a moot point whether the Congress is clinging to the Nehru-Gandhi legacy or is it the other way round? Whatever it is, the family-party symbiosis is not working. The drastic solution suggested by the critics of the Congress is that the Nehru-Gandhis should walk away from the party because the party on its own would not do such a thing. There is no need for cutting that metaphorical umbilical cord tying the party to the family.
There should be enough decent people in the party to stake claim for leadership and for enough people in the party to vote for them. The Nehru-Gandhis should remain in the party and be part of the process.
The family can always have their turn at the helm but the unstated principle that only a member of the family should be the president of the party has to be abandoned. For a change, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi could step aside from the posts of president and vice president, and agree to work with another president and vice president. This is not likely to happen because the Congress leaders have become too dependent in a pathological sense to take over the reins of the leadership of the party at a difficult time.