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By Arun Sinha

The Congress is not a sinking ship. It is a ship trapped in a fierce storm. It is taking severe beatings but it is not ripped apart yet and it is not going down below the surface. It is like a battered Air India waiting for a Tata to take it out of the storm and get it rolling again.

The new captain of the ship can be a Congressman from outside the Gandhi family. Or it can be a reincarnation of Rahul Gandhi, if we can hope for that to happen — a reincarnation in terms of the depth, length and width of engagement with the electorate, the party organisation, the party leaders, young and old.

For the good of the Congress, at the present juncture, it should be led by a Congressman from outside the Gandhi family. He or she can be young or old. Voters do not reject a leader on grounds of age. Modi is past 70. Joe Biden was 78 when Americans chose him as President.

Walking the Talk

The election of Congress president is scheduled for August. Rahul Gandhi should not contest it. At the recent Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, Sonia Gandhi said she, Rahul and Priyanka were ready to resign and make any “sacrifices” for the party as they considered the party more important than individuals. The family must walk the talk. Let them step aside for someone else to take over in August.

Surely, it is not going to be easy for either the family or the party. What kind of person a non-Gandhi president would be? Would he or she be the prime ministerial face of the party? Or would he or she be a person with a great organising ability entrusted only with the task of rejuvenation of the party organisation at the State, district, block and village levels? In other words, would he or she be a Narendra Modi or an Amit Shah? That is the knottiest question both the party and the Gandhis have to resolve.

As far as the Gandhis are concerned, it has long been presumed that even if they let the party elect a president from outside the family, they would not agree to a name but of one who is loyal to them — someone who will be their proxy, not anyone who will pull the party out of their hands. That kind of tactic would not be unusual as Indira Gandhi did the same and even Narendra Modi brought only a wholly loyal Amit Shah as party president. However, though it would not be unusual, it would be unwise for the party.

People’s Perception

The party at this juncture needs a non-Gandhi leader with exceptional organising ability who is not a proxy of the family. That person should be able to engage both the Gandhis and the senior party men (G-23 and others) at equal level in decision making. The emergence of a non-Gandhi Congress president can change the perception of the people about the party and shore up its dwindling support. A new leader always inspires hope. If the Congress can elect a non-Gandhi as president who can inspire hope, it can be a game changer for the party.

The question of leadership of the Congress is often projected as an either/or situation. If the Gandhis hold the command, the other party leaders are reduced to nothing. And if any non-Gandhi is elected as president, the Gandhis will be reduced to nothing. Why should it happen like that? The Gandhis can play influential roles even when they are not holding the president’s post. They can be a part of the decision-making committees. Rahul Gandhi can be one among several leaders who can today or tomorrow be a prime ministerial candidate.

The Gandhis are very important for the Congress. Regardless of the BJP’s reviling of the Congress for being a dynastic party, the truth is that a significant share of the party vote has been coming over the past decades owing to its leadership being in the hands of the Nehrus. The cult of Nehru developed with Jawaharlal Nehru and it has continued through Indira, Rajiv, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka.

Cult of a ruling dynasty is a value of the feudal age that has survived in our age. Not everyone thinks that way, but there is still a large number of people who believe that the heirs of a king alone know how to rule the kingdom. After all, with Rahul Gandhi heading the campaign, the party got about 11 crore votes in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019.

Harnessing Asset

Dynasty is as much a liability as an asset for the Congress. The asset part can be best harnessed if a non-Gandhi is elected as president. The party needs to broadbase its leadership. The suggestion from G-23 for a ‘collective, inclusive leadership’ is the right prescription. The Gandhis cannot afford to do without senior party leaders. And the senior party leaders cannot do without the Gandhis.

However, the crisis in the Congress is not just about leadership. It is also about ideology, social engineering and organisation. Even if the leadership is broad-based, what would the leaders talk about? How would they win back the hearts of the large numbers of Hindus that have been captured by the BJP with its laws, actions and words to “get the Hindus the justice and the glory they had been denied under the Congress regime?” The BJP has made it a battle for the mind and unless the Congress can beat it in the battle for the mind, it cannot hope to beat it in the battle for the ballot.

The Congress crisis in social engineering arises from the fact that the BJP is taking over its constituency of the poor. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has built a successful coalition of non-Yadav backward castes and non-Jatav scheduled castes. It can be called a post-Mandal coalition to beat a Mandal coalition that was captured by the dominant backward caste of Yadavs. The Congress faces a huge challenge of winning back the poorer castes that used to be its loyal voters.

The crisis in organisation is deep. Its organisation does not stand anywhere compared to the BJP, which has built an incredible grassroots network and is using technology pervasively and which also has the RSS organisation to draw from. However, the way to build the organisation is to have a broad-based leadership that inspires hope and a political ideology that wins back Hindus with an alternative vision. Only when people are attracted by Congress leadership and ideology, the party can hope to find members and workers to recruit at the grassroots.

(The writer is an independent journalist and author)

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Author: Howard Caldwell