Congress: Rudderless ship in choppy sea without a captain
News analysis

Congress: Rudderless ship in choppy sea without a captain

K. Gopalakrishnan

The Congress party is yet to get out of the shock of the humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha poll. Though the Congress Working Committee met, no plan to revive the party organization and boost the morale of the cadre was discussed; a considerable time was spent on pointing out the failure of leaders who did not sink their differences and sacrifice personal interests to lead the party campaign even in areas where they had influence.

What placed the party in a dormant state, weeks after the debacle was Rahul Gandhi’s insistence on quitting the leadership of the party, owning up the failure. Persuasion by family members, senior veterans and his close young associates did not make much difference. He even wanted a non-family member to take up the responsibility of steering the party. The approaching assembly elections and political poachers winning over Congress men, weakening the party and eroding the credibility did not make much impact on the party president. He preferred to distance himself from political matters, opting to confine himself in one of Lutyen’s bungalows in Delhi, allotted to him as a Member of Parliament.

A discerning change in the attitude of Rahul many noted, however, after his 3-day thanks giving tour of his constituency, Wayanad, where an overwhelming majority of the electorate chose him with a record margin. The enthusiastic welcome in Wayanad, where people in tens of thousands patiently waited to have a glimpse of their MP, was indeed unprecedented. One saw Rahul enjoying the warm welcome cutting across the society forgetting political, age, communal, caste and gender differences where ever he went during the 3 days. Some party members felt that the visit to Waynad made Rahul get rid of the hangover of the electoral set back.

A clear indication of his changed mood was that on the third day of his visit Rahul started attacking the Parivar and the Prime Minister. On his return to Delhi he started meeting some party leaders with grievances, a distinct change as before Wayanad visit he was unwilling to lend his ears to even chief ministers of MP and Rajasthan , the Deputy CM of Rajasthan and many others. Rahul back at work made many look up to him with hope.

For, in the weeks following the electoral set back, there were problems cropping up within the party and there were no attempts to deal with them. With Rahul unwilling to intervene, there was no one to handle the issues, which further explains the orphaned situation of the oldest political party of the country and its single command hierarchy, all depending on one individual.

The situation, mildly put, is disturbing in the Congress. In Telangana, 12 Congress MLAs out 18 elected have joined the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Reports indicate that the TDP leadership is aiming at a Congress-Mukht Telengana Assembly. There was none to handle the situation and make even an attempt to win back the twelve of them in the initial days. Remember in the Congress only directions from top make the state leadership act.

The Karnataka BJP is all set to bring down the JDS-Congress coalition by winning over MLAs. Within the Congress too intense groupism is on and a section of the minority MLAs are up in arms and trading unparliamentary tirades.

In Madhya Pradesh, Parivar Chanakyas, now in good number in the saffron group, are trying to win over MLAs. One MLA said that she was offered Rs.50 crores to switch loyalties!

In Rajasthan, the on-going internecine quarrels between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot are flaring up at regular intervals.

In Maharashtra, a number of Congress MLAs, including Leader of the Opposition and senior leader, have quit the Congress.

In Punjab, the differences between chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Singh Sidhu are nothing new. The two have been at loggerheads for some time. Sidhu has been rather outspoken, often not extending the normal courtesies to the chief minister, some reports indicate. The recent clash is over the cabinet reshuffle in which Sidhu was shifted to another department which, he felt, was humiliating and has refused to take charge according to reports.

There are problems in party units of Delhi, Haryana and Gujarat. Differences in a party like Congress are nothing surprising. But if immediate remedial measures are not taken, migration to other parties is sure to follow in such circumstances. The position of the Congress at the national and state levels is also not very healthy. The BJP undoubtedly offers potential for better political career prospects, especially after the Modi win in the recent LS polls.

Not that attending to the problems can revive the Congress party. These are basically for fire fighting and a message to the cadre and state level leaders that the high command is alive and kicking. And also to send clear signals to other parties that any attempt to create trouble for the Congress will be resisted.

What is needed today is more action. The Congress has to plan for the forth coming by-elections and assembly polls in right earnest. The recent Lok Sabha polls have revealed that the Congress cadre is ineffective and in many areas almost absent.  So much so that the party found it difficult to place personnel at the booth and mandal levels during the campaign and in the booths on polling day!

In the absence of a loyal and committed cadre, election campaigning will be tough. There are cases, according to some surveys, where the live and effective Parivar cadres took credit for the good work done by the UPA in the field of distribution of CG cylinders and electricity connections. In fact, the Parivar started forming groups of such beneficiaries six months before the elections claiming that they were beneficiaries of the Modi government schemes.

Similarly even for campaigning there were few leaders who could effectively communicate with the masses.

The fact is that the Congress had ignored for decades the need for strengthening the organizational structure and grass root level workers. Absence of inner party elections has resulted in ineffective leaders holding on to the organization without doing any work. The net result is that new blood is not attracted to the party and genuine workers within do not get a chance to come up and lead the organization. Taking up the causes of the people and effectively intervening to solve the genuine problems of the insouciant masses has not been part of the Congress programmes for a long time. Why even to get the names of the party sympathizers included in the electoral lists there are practically none at the mandal level these days! It is not functioning even during elections!! The only exception is perhaps the Kerala state unit.

It is time for the high command to realize that there is no alternative but democratic functioning and holding inner party elections to have a healthy and strong cadre. Even in Kerala no genuine elections are held and the state PCC is a nominated one. Added to that old veterans are engaged in creating their own dynasties in the states about which Rahul Gandhi spoke with concern in the last CWC meeting.

To change the Congress organization from its present ineffective and inactive state a lot needs to be done. Work for the organizational restructuring through a democratic process should begin in states where elections are due. The BJP has started work for the next LS election at the grass root level already!! BJP winning in the recent LS polls is also due to hard work undoubtedly at all levels. All credit to Shah and his team.

Today the Congress is a rudderless ship in a choppy sea without a captain. The captain has to return to the ship along with his supporting staff to take it to the desired ports. The earlier they get into action the better. Any delay can only further weaken the historic organization.