Is the Gandhi family the biggest asset as well as the biggest liability for the Congress party? This is not the first time the party has grappled with this question. But perhaps it has never before faced the real possibility of getting virtually obliterated from India's political map like now. This makes the latest round of sporadic revolts within Congress extremely significant. Is it the beginning of a churn in the grand old party?
When Sonia Gandhi took over the reigns of the party, Congress was a demoralised lot. To her credit she managed to keep the flock together, even weathering the entire storm of the “foreigner” controversy. After NDA's shock defeat in 2004, Sonia Gandhi did manage to establish a steady, albeit strange, dual power arrangement which worked effectively for atleast the first term of the UPA government. But unfortunately for the Congress, its heir apparent Rahul Gandhi has just not managed to live up to expectations. The Congress high command remained in a passive mode when scams after scams hit them like a tsunami. UPA 2 became an example of a PR disaster. Yet the leadership simply refused to tackle the problems head on.
From all accounts, Rahul is sincere, earnest and willing, but politics is often more about perceptions than facts. In nearly a decade of active politics, Rahul has achieved success only sparingly. Infact, if he was in a corporate job, he would have risked losing it because of such an appalling performance. But since Congress is the fiefdom of the Gandhis, Rahul's writ has run unchallenged so far. In the last few years, Rahul has increasingly insulated himself from party leaders. He has his own coterie of people who supply him with “ground information” which mainly determine the contours of important decisions. But clearly, this strategy has not worked. Not only did Congress slump to a historic low, but Rahul Gandhi's personal image also took a huge hit in the last couple of years. He is now an internet legend with memes, virals and a potent source of laughter for stand-up comics. Loyalists may still shield him, but the voices of dissent have started to vent themselves within closed doors. And the murmurs will only grow louder till a full blown revolt takes place. The need of the hour is for introspection and honest soul searching to diffuse the situation - something that the party has dedicatedly shied away from doing till now.
Just after the elections were over, a well-scripted act played out. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi wanted to resign but the Congress Working committee rejected this. It didn't surprise anybody because the CWC is packed with Gandhi family loyalists. Till date, very few have publicly taken a stand against the Gandhi scion. In the odd cases that they did, they have promptly been showed the door. Only Murli Deora escaped the wrath of the high command after indirectly blaming Rahul for the crushing defeat in mid-May this year.
Although the Congress has appointed a committee under AK Anthony to find out the reasons for their debacle, with Anthony being an old Gandhi hand, the content of his report is a foregone conclusion. It will presumably talk about collective responsibly without fixing accountability. In state after state now, rebels are protesting against people who were cherry-picked by the high command. The Congress top leadership refused to groom powerful satraps as PCC Chief or chief ministers of different states. They opted for sedate, “safer” choices who regularly paid their obeisance to the high command. This was the primary reason leaders like Jaganmohan Reddy left the Congress. While the high command continued to rule unquestioned, the party became bloated with ineffective and inefficient leaders. Till the time the Congress was in power, these problems were kept in check. But now all these mistakes are haunting the Congress and the party is likely to lose power in states like Maharashtra and Haryana where elections are due next. Even now Rahul has snubbed all the opponents to Tarun Gogoi potentially harming party's prospect in the state. Clearly Rahul is completely disconnected from popular sentiment resonating within Congress. In the closed echo chamber Rahul resides he is the saviour of the party but unfortunately that is far away from truth.
The party is still grappling with ways to counter the Modi government in critical issues like price rise. It is just hoping that the government does some sort of a self goal, giving it some fuel for outrage. But unlike in 1977 when the Janata party had a ramshackle alliance and the government fell due to its own contradictions, this time the BJP has a simple majority. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah will chip away at all the assets and any goodwill of the Congress to further strengthen the BJP.
The Congress party is still languishing in a comatose inert mode like it did pre-elections. It believes it did a good job but just lost the publicity war. It is time for Congress to get its act together. It can only start rebuilding with an honest introspection and by ushering in a new line of leadership. Like the UK's Labour party reinvented itself, Congress needs a face lift in ideas to position itself favourably with today's generation. While Rahul Gandhi kept harping about women's empowerment in an interview in the run up to the elections, his own party is in dire need of being empowered, a fact that he seems to be blissfully oblivious about.