One hundred and thirty-six years is a long period in contemporary history. Like UK’s Conservative Party and Democratic Party of the USA, the Indian National Congress is one of the oldest political parties in the world to have survived. There is a simple reason for its endurance. It goes much beyond the leadership styles of Dababhai Narojee, Pheroze Shah Mehta, Gopal Krishna Gokhale to Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad to Indira-Rajiv, PV Narasimha Rao, Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh-Rahul Gandhi era. The simple mantra has been its tryst of continuity with change.
In other words, the ability to move on with times had kept Congress going. Somehow, this aspect of reinventing itself has stopped now, giving the Congress two back-to-back defeats of 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. What is more humiliating and haunting for the grand old party is its inability to sharpen its ideology, moral courage, resolve inherent contradictions, provide leadership and a sense of direction.
Mandate 2019 has shaken Congress’ self-belief and faith in ideology.
In terms of ‘science of ideas’ or ideology, the Congress’ strength had been the near absence of ideological clarity. From Jagjivan Ram’s description, ‘Modern man is the inheritor of all that is noble and good in human thought. And thus our democratic socialism is a synthesis of all that is best in the thinking of the East and the West and provides an ideology superior to other sectarian ideologies which are communalistic or communitarian.’ Post economic reforms era, when it began giving only lip service to democratic socialism, the party’s socio-economic thinking reduced to a near farcical “sab chalta hai” in Sonia-Rahul era.
Rahul has failed to inspire or lead from the front. His resignation in May 2019 has not helped either his cause or the party. The Congress is hopelessly dependent upon the Nehru-Gandhi family and visa-versa. The possibility of Priyanka replacing Rahul may delay disintegration but it is all caught in ‘who will bell the cat’ syndrome.
Restoration of inner-party democracy may not help the Congress beat the BJP electorally but purely in terms of optics and perception, Gandhis can project themselves as true democrats. Surely, Rahul can not feel threatened by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Manish Tiwari, Shashi Tharoor or Kapil Sibal. If these G 23 dissenters pose a threat to the post and positions of K C Venugopal, Randeep Singh Surjewala or Rajiv Satav, It is both naïve and silly of Rahul to pit himself in the intra-party, endemic rivalries of the minions.
Gandhis alone can clear the mess with substantial sacrifices. Giving a clarion call to various breakaway groups of the party – NCP, YSR Congress, Telangana Rashtriya Samiti and even Trinamul Congress to unite can be a first step and a way forward.
In many ways, Congress has a lot to learn from its political rival – the BJP. The right of centre ideology has been central to the BJP and its earlier avtars of Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS focusing on majoritarianism, cow slaughter, integration of J&K with rest of the country, Ram Temple and broadly the issue of the cultural identity of the Hindus in India. There were many setbacks and hurdles. From 1951 general elections till 1969, the country did not have a recognised opposition party or the leader of the opposition. But sticking to the basics finally started bringing rich dividends from 1996 onwards when the first Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was sworn-in. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).