Monday, January 12, 2015

Congress's revival plans are mere shadow-plays: What's needed is withdrawal by the Gandhis

The Congress Party is devising idea after idea to stay relevant, but the exercise is proving to be hopeless. It no doubt expected great impact, for example, when it announced that Sonia Gandhi, "back in action after a brief illness" has "shot off" letters to party general secretaries saying that she approved of Rahul Gandhi's plans to revive the party. Are Congressmen dumb enough to think that Indians are dumb? How lucky can the BJP get?

And what is Shri Rahul's revival plan? Last year the party publicised what it called "The open manifesto process: Pathbreaking political reform". It said that Rahul interacted with tribals, caste organisations, minorities, women's groups, ex-servicemen, railway porters, rickshaw-pullers and so on to gather their suggestions. All suggestions were "carefully considered" and included in the party's manifesto "wherever feasible". Even the dumb will understand those last two words.

Another plan attributed to Rahul was to let some of the very old leaders retire. The very old leaders publicly welcomed the idea, then sabotaged it from within. Now Rahul is said to be putting the final touches to a plan that would require chief ministers to secure the approval of party presidents in their states before key policy decisions are taken. There isn't a chance in hell of this idea getting implemented. Tussle between chief ministers and party presidents is a fixed feature of Congress-ruled states. It is raging in Karnataka and Kerala and no High Command seems capable of controlling it.

Revival ideas from the party's presumed elders sound no better. Digvijay Singh, specialist in speaking out of turn, said that Rahul should take fulltime charge of the Congress. In the same breath he added that Rahul lacked the ruler's temperament. So how can a man with no disposition to rule become a fulltime ruler? Such conundrums do not stop Digvijay Singh. He is the talking equivalent of the Moving Finger which writes and, having writ, moves on.

Another wise man of the Congress, P. Chidambaram, wanted Rahul to speak more. That the Congress lost in every constituency where Rahul spoke is a minor detail that doesn't deter leaders whose ambitions hang on the Gandhi family's backing. Chidambaram gave a hint of his daydream when he said that a non-Gandhi could become the party's president. A willing patriot could be found in, say, Sivaganga with the added attraction of his own dynasty in tow.

A lesser star from the Pune region, Anant Gadgil, thought up a "campaign to lift the morale" of party workers. The gist of the plan is: "I will give 25 to 30 talking points against the BJP". A rather modest man, restricting himself to the 25-30 range when others would have offered a hundred or a thousand sticks to beat the BJP to death.

With the BJP's stars on the ascendance, it looks likely that Congress will go for some of the more dangerous ideas that have been aired for its revival. One is to retreat from its pro-minority stance. That means developing a pro-majority stance. The very thought that the Congress can compete with the BJP for the Hindutva vote is not just ludicrous; it is ominous for the plurality that has sustained the constitutional integrity of this country all these years.

Also aired by the top brass in the Congress is a Go Back policy: Go back to Sheila Dixit's glory days in the governance of Delhi and to Jawaharlal Nehru's halcyon days in the building of India. Going back 15 years and 60 years is of course better than going back 4000 years when Indians could perform interspecies organ transplant and stuff like that. But why go back at all when everyone else is going forward? Besides, Sheila Dixit was overtaken by scandals, especially during the infamous Commonwealth Games. Nehru had his triumphs -- and also his tragedies.

There is only one plan that will revive the Congress. This is for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to completely withdraw from politics and public life, preferably settling abroad. True, the Gandhi family has been the only pivot around which the party's warring factions could unite. With them gone, factionalism will work havoc in the party. This should be welcomed because, out of the factional wars will emerge forces that have legitimacy. There are young and capable leaders in the party. They cannot rise because only Rahul Gandhi is allowed to rise. This imposed growth obstacle is what keeps the Congress in dwarf status. India is a land for giants.