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Why Rahul Gandhi's internal democracy has failed

Monday, 23 June 2014 - 6:45am IST | Agency: dna

Homeopathy is a holistic cure going into the root cause of the malady, but a terminally ill cancer patient cannot be healed just by the sugarcoated 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 should 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. 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 lane, the IYC and NSUI have not produced a single leader of national or state standing. The current and remaining crop of grassroot leaders such as Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma et al were the products of 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. P.V. 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 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 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 ADMK – do not boast of internal democracy. Modi, Mamata and Jayalalitha 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? May be, but not in the foreseeable future.

(The writer is a political commentator)

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