Congress Party: A Time to Stop Procrastinating but to Rebuild

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New York – Finally, the Karnataka Government of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition has fallen, and the reverberation from that long struggle for values and principles will be long felt across the political spectrum. The brazen attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to undermine the democratic process using money and manpower has once again borne fruits for them and may have rewarded their naked ambitions. However, it is a sad chapter for the politics in the State of Karnataka and a shameful spectacle for those Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who have failed to uphold their oaths in their pursuit of self-aggrandizement.

However, the root problem with the Congress party lies elsewhere. Rahul Gandhi is known for his straight talk and principled stand. I had the opportunity to meet with him in Delhi and was able to spend some time discussing issues related to the Overseas Congress. I found him to be earnest, attentive, and responsive to my queries and concerns. He came across to me as a man who is honest and genuinely committed to the Nehruvian vision of India.

Nevertheless, I have a hard time defending his resignation, especially the timing of it and how it was handled right after a stinging defeat at the hands of Narendra Modi. In a real democracy, we are taught to respect the verdict of the people and abide by the election results; no matter how painful the outcome may be to our desires or interests. Therefore, conceding an election to a victor is an accepted norm in a healthy democracy, and Rahul Gandhi’s concession speech can be viewed in that context. However, the problem with that speech was whether he was setting the right tone for the future?

In 2014, Narendra Modi, at the height of his popularity – promising development and enticing the youth with crores of new jobs – won 280 plus seats. People who were tired of the charges of corruption at high places and detached leadership from the masses elected Narendra Modi who promised clean governance and rapid development. However, five years later, Modi had very little to show for in terms of reforms or growth. The disastrous demonetization, messy GST implementation, farmer’s distress, and rising unemployment along with attacks on revered Institutions and fundamental rights of the citizens have taken a toll on the BJP regime. Any rational thinking Indian would quickly conclude that the Modi regime was in big trouble heading into the election.

Opposition parties truly believed they had a chance to dethrone the regime while sensing an opportunity given the rising resentment of the people across the nation. Then the unthinkable happened! Modi not only won again but was victorious with even a more significant majority, 303 to be exact. The number seemed to be unreal and even fictitious. There was something terribly wrong with that picture of increasing their lead despite all the chaos they have created and untold miseries they have brought upon the nation.

Apparently, something has gone wrong with this election. No single factor can explain what has been transpired. There are enough stories out there about the EVMs and the Election Commission (EC) to arouse suspicion and even skepticism of the whole electoral process. The media has been reticent in any serious investigation though they have reported that going by the figures given by EC on its website, more votes were counted than polled. Another disquieting information was that EC had permitted repeated violations of its Model Code of conduct by a particular candidate without suffering any consequences.

However, the biggest disappointment was that Rahul Gandhi missed a great opportunity to raise these critical issues right after the election thereby totally validating the victory by the opposition and probably giving into the notion of a “massive mandate” given to Modi by the people of India. The rest of the leadership of the Congress party and even some in opposition continued their silence at this important juncture. It was indeed the beginning of the unraveling of the Congress party from which it has yet to recover.

Then came the resignation by Rahul Gandhi from the position of the Presidency of the Congress Party which took most of his ardent supporters by surprise. I truly understand his feelings being left alone on the campaign trail day in and day out attacking the Modi regime while others were engaged in acts of self-preservation or promoting their own mini dynasty. His grievances are quite valid that for too long folks have been running on the Gandhi coattails and once they were in power, got busy with their own self-development.

However, leadership is not only about motivating and mobilizing the masses but also about providing a vision for the future. Gandhi would have been better off using this opportunity to clean up the house and put the party apparatus in order. Instead, his actions have left the Party in a limbo endangering the future of the organization and placing its hierarchy in disarray. The repercussions are being felt not only in Karnataka and Goa, but across the land. It is as if the script written by the BJP of the “Congress Mukt Bharat” (Congress-Free India) is being played right before our very own eyes.

While Rahul Gandhi is away from the decision making, one wonders who is really in charge?

Although Congress lacks the necessary 55 members to be officially in opposition, it is important that the Party needed a credible and strong voice to provide a semblance of checks and balances in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament). There was no doubt that Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament (MP) from Kerala where Congress has performed extra-ordinarily well, fits that bill better than anyone else in that group. He is a great speaker and a renowned legislator with experience in international settings. More than anything else, he commands the attention of the global media as well as social media, which is regularly exploited effectively by the forces friendly to the BJP. However, to the surprise of many, he was bypassed, and one may ask what motivates that type of decision making and by whom especially since Rahul Gandhi has resigned!

It is obvious that the coterie of leaders who surrounded Gandhis in the last two generations have become relics of the past. The Party needs to step away from that self-indulging group who have done quite well for themselves while presiding over the decimation the Party’s grassroots support and emptying of its coffers. The sad truth is that the Party is struggling for funds while its leaders are basking in their riches.

Many are shocked at the sight of Congress legislators leaving in droves to join the opposition. What does that say about the nomination process?
The General Secretaries who are assigned to the states appear to be promoting candidacies of unsavory individuals who have no commitment to the values and principles of the Congress party. Sincere workers who may have spent a lifetime working for the Party are overlooked more often than not in favor of some nouveau riche or the powerful, and the ideology takes a back seat; hence the results speak for themselves.

The Party needs to do some introspection; however, a prolonged vacuum at the top leadership may cause irreparable damage to the image of the Party while discouraging young people who may be warming up to core message in particular inclusive growth, social justice, communal harmony, the abolition of poverty and protection of the marginalized. The Party that Gandhi and Nehru built is at the vanguard for the preservation of secularism and equal justice and should never shy away from defending those cardinal principles that modern India was built upon. If anyone thinks that the grand old Party can be Saffron-Lite and succeed is merely being delusional.

It is still not too late for Rahul Gandhi to reconsider his resignation and take charge of the organization and help to reorganize the Party from the ground up. It is about time to strengthen the state leadership and make them more autonomous to facilitate crucial decisions. It is also time to end group rivalries and enforce strict discipline while communicating a cohesive message forcefully and repeatedly.

Finally, how about organizational elections to choose its rightful leader who could take the baton and start working for the next five years? A party that has suffered electoral decimation of this scale cannot rebuild itself from bitterness and self-flagellation. Along with admitting its own faults, this must be a soul-searching time for ideological clarity.

George Abraham
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George Abraham is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations and Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, US

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