There can be no Congress without the Gandhi family. The message that the Congress Working Committee and now the Congress Parliamentary Party has sent out to the party faithful makes this clear in no uncertain terms. The isolated voices from across the country taking aim at the Congress leadership and specifically Rahul Gandhi and his discredited band of advisers have failed to push the party towards soul-searching or the much-needed leadership change and organisational overhaul. Coming after the poorly-scripted resignation drama at the CWC meeting, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s decision to nominate family loyalist 72-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge as Lok Sabha leader reeks of yet another plot following a script authored from 10 Janpath. By authorising the leader who led the party to its worst ever drubbing to make this decision, the Congress party’s 44 elected MPs who bucked a strong anti-incumbency wave have unnecessarily invested more powers in Sonia Gandhi than she deserved at this moment of Congress’ ignominy. From their position of relative strength, these MPs could have called for an election to the parliamentary party leader’s post.
The Congress’ weaknesses put even the Gandhi family’s troubles to shame. The latter has only to contend with a truant scion who has squandered 10 precious years and two consecutive popular mandates to govern the country. Without leaders to be counted as alternatives to the Gandhis or workers to counter the RSS-BJP grassroots network, the former is little more than a stump unit dominated by elites and dynastic scions in most states. Kharge, a seven-time MLA and a two-time MP may be an asset to the Congress party, and could become its Dalit face too, but rather than such symbolism, what the Congress needed was an act of transcendence. Instead, the much-indulged Rahul Gandhi disappointed, walking away from another opportunity to lead the Congress in the Lok Sabha and prove his mettle as an opposition leader. His preference to lead the Congress in the upcoming assembly elections to Maharashtra and Haryana could also be read as escapism. A 42 per cent attendance record in the last Lok Sabha, participation in just two Lok Sabha debates, zero questions asked, zero private member bills introduced, and only 54 per cent MP fund utilisation has made him one of India’s most poorly-performing parliamentarians. Without rewriting this record, Rahul’s ability to enthuse party cadre or voters over the long run remains suspect.
For the Congress party, there are ominous portents in its inability to shirk off the crushing defeat at the hustings and plot a new trajectory that emulates the BJP’s comeback. The sight of lesser leaders battling for control and imminent disintegration was a frightening reality of the post-Narasimha Rao pre-Sonia Gandhi period. The fear of a return to chaos and weak central leaderships continues to work to the Gandhis’ advantage even amid the family’s dwindling fortunes. But to return to contention in states like UP, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and Rajasthan where it has been blanked out, what is needed is not a high command. In the years the party entrenched itself in Lutyens Delhi and paratrooping leaders benefitted from their proximity to the high command, the grassroots organisation wilted. The BJP’s successful strategy at the very top — the choice of Narendra Modi — and at the bottom — activating booth-level workers — stares Congress in the face. With Rahul Gandhi and his disconnected, disinterested style of functioning, the Congress’ eternal boast of being India’s natural party of government has run its course.