We need an effective Congress to challenge BJP

I Mean What I Say

by Shashi Tharoor

5 min read
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It needs to be a new dawn for the Congress party - and for the nation we hope again to lead.

Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi

In the aftermath of the resignation of respected veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad from the Congress Party, many see the party in crisis. This latest in a steady spate of departures has been fuelling incessant media speculation and a daily dose of obituaries for the party. In turn, the Congress worker, who has already had to contend with the disappointment of the recent election results, risks further demoralisation. And the ordinary citizen and voter -- nearly 20% of the electorate looks to the Congress to advance their political affiliations and convictions -- feels let down.

The exit of valued colleagues does not help. I personally regret these departures, because I would have wanted these friends to stay in the party and continue to fight to reform it. As a signatory of the so-called 'G-23' letter, I should say that it reflected concerns building up over many months among party members and well-wishers who wanted a re-energised Congress. These concerns were about the party's functioning, not its ideology or values. Our only intention was to strengthen and revive the party, not to divide or weaken it. We sought an effective Congress party to challenge what the BJP is doing to the country.

We were not against any individual but desired to improve the way the party deals with issues. The problem with the Congress today is that to many critics, it looks increasingly like an envelope without any address on it.

Rahul Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad | Photo: PTI

Despite all this, there is no reason to write off the Congress Party. For one, there simply exists no other national alternative to the domination of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party which has a comparable pan-Indian presence. Any other political force in the country is largely confined to one (or at most two) states. Indian democracy also needs the inclusive vision embodied in the core ideology that animates the Congress party. But the party needs to offer the public clarity on what it offers the nation as an alternative to the BJP. And it needs to find a way forward to secure its own future, without any further delay.

The leadership vacuum at the top has had a damaging effect within the party. And yet, in the aftermath of many difficult moments in the past, the grand old party displayed an immense capacity to weather change, to pivot itself to the evolving political context of the time, and to bounce back to victory each time.

Leaders who quit Congress recently: Kapil Sibal, Amarinder Singh, Jyotiradiya Scindia

But in the face of the current crisis what exactly should the party do to weather the current turbulence?

Today, the key decision making body within the Congress, the Congress Working Committee, has announced an election schedule for a President for the party, who will be elected by October 19th. Ideally it should have announced elections also for the dozen seats on the CWC itself which are supposed to be elected. Allowing members of the party, drawn from the AICC and PCC delegates, to determine who will lead the party from these key positions, would have helped legitimise the incoming set of leaders and give them a credible mandate to lead the party. Still, electing a fresh President is a start towards the revitalization the Congress badly needs.

It could also have other beneficial effects-for instance, we have seen the global interest in the British Conservative Party during their recent leadership race, a phenomenon we already witnessed in 2019, when a dozen candidates contested to replace Theresa May and Boris Johnson emerged on top. Replicating a similar scenario for the Congress will similarly increase the national interest in the party and galvanise more voters towards the Congress party once again. For this reason I hope that several candidates come forward to present themselves for consideration. Putting forward their visions for the party and the nation will surely stir public interest.

While the party as a whole is in need of renewal, the most urgent leadership position that needs to be filled is naturally that of the Congress President. Given the current state of the party, the perception of crisis and the national picture, whoever assumes the mantle of president will undoubtedly need to achieve the twin goals of energising the Congress party workers and inspiring the voters. He or she should have a plan to fix what ails the party, as well as a vision for India. After all, a political party is an instrument to serve the country, not an end in itself.

What is the Congress' vision of a better society? And how does it intend to take India there? We need to hear that from the candidates.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi | Photo: ANI

Many Congress supporters have been dismayed by Rahul Gandhi's refusal to contest and his statement that no member from the Gandhi family should replace him. It is really for the Gandhi family to decide where they collectively stand on this issue, but in a democracy, no party should put itself in the position of believing that only one family can lead it.

Either way, a free and fair election process would be a healthy way to go about settling the issue. It would legitimise the mandate being offered to the incoming president.

These thoughts reflect widespread sentiment among party workers and leaders I have heard from during this period of crisis. Their desire is for a leadership willing and able to conceive and implement a robust and comprehensive revival strategy and a fresh agenda for the nation. By fixing the current leadership vacuum and institutionalising a process through which the Congress worker can have a concrete say in the leaders that represent them at the upper echelons of the party, free and fair elections will give the party the strong footing it needs in the hearts of the workers -- and the general public.

There has been many a dark night in the history of the Congress and the country. But I remain confident that a party that once rallied an entire country together in the pursuit of liberty and freedom, offered direction and leadership to the men and women of our nation as it went through the cathartic changes of the post-Independence era, and rooted the soul of this land in the principles of equality, inclusiveness and social justice, can once again end this night and usher in a new dawn.

It needs to be a new dawn for the Congress party - and for the nation we hope again to lead.

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