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Updated: January 17, 2013 00:28 IST
STATECRAFT

The Congress kumbh mela

Harish Khare
Comment (18)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

When the Grand Old Party’s leaders congregate at Jaipur, they will do well to remember their historic responsibility to adapt to changing aspirations

Jawaharlal Nehru took over as Congress president a few months before the first General Elections and led the Grand Old Party to a comprehensive victory, as the world watched in fascination a backward country’s revolutionary flirtation with universal adult franchise.

Soon after the votes got counted, Jayaprakash Narayan noted rather bitterly that “the Congress successes in certain States are mainly due to Mr. Nehru’s promise that he would clean up the organisation after the elections. I know from personal experience that a large number of people in the country were carried away by that promise. The time has come for Mr. Nehru’s to fulfil this promise.” The unstated lament was that Jawaharlal Nehru had hoodwinked the electorate into voting for the Congress. And, for good measure, JP noted, rather presciently, “that neither Mr. Nehru nor anyone else can clean up this organisation.” The Congressman-turned-socialist leader’s prognosis was to prove right.

Nehru’s benevolent presence

Apart from periodically lamenting unhealthy tendencies in the party over which he presided, and, often admonishing fellow-Congressmen for bad behaviour, Nehru did precious little to set the Congress house in order. Arguably he just did not have the requisite ruthlessness to purge the party of its impurities. He was too much of a liberal and too much of a gentleman to undertake the necessarily unpleasant task of cleansing a so settled an organisation as the Congress. Instead, the operative principle became that Nehru’s own overwhelmingly benevolent presence and wholesome leadership were more than enough to provide the corrective to whatever “badness” the party could cook up. Nehru was comfortable with this proposition and others were conceitedly comfortable in making Nehru feel comfortable in this self-delusion.

Contrary to JP’s 1953 prophesy that “the disintegration of the Congress will become an accomplished fact in the next few years,” the party in fact settled itself down to consolidating its political domination. It was better than anyone else in political power games; but it was obvious the party of the freedom movement had acquired an organisational personality that not only was decidedly at odds with Nehru’s own ethical standards but also prevented it from becoming a decisive transformative instrumentality of the Indian state. Soon New Delhi-based envoys were mentioning the party’s “corruption” and inefficiency in their dispatches back home. Nehru’s “socialist” agenda was filibustered. And, though Nehru could and did manufacture coherent national objectives and goals, the bureaucracy and the public sector — and, not the Congress party — became the preferred instruments of transformation. The only contribution the Congress could make was to deepen the Indian state’s representative legitimacy.

Once Nehru left the scene and the Indian state began its long muddle through a Hindu rate of growth, the Congress’s sterile stability increasingly proved a positive distraction. Sooner or later, things had to come to a head — and, did, rather dramatically in 1969. The Congress got split right down the middle. That split was premised on the understanding that there were too many reactionary, backward looking people in the Congress who were preventing the fulfilment of the nation’s historic role. People voted decisively for Indira Gandhi’s Congress because it was marketed as a new, sharper instrument of transformation. However, once it became clear that Indira Gandhi was batting on a winning wicket, the same less than attractive crowd of Congressmen moved over to her side.

Soon after the 1971 massive mandate, everyone bought into a working proposition that Indira Gandhi’s very presence and leadership would neutralise the baddies. She was too distracted with the absorbing and exacting affairs of state; there is only so much a prime minister can pile on her/his plate. Like her father, Indira Gandhi too could not undertake any comprehensive house-cleaning. The promise of purge never materialised. Instead, the party became “a dung-heap of defectors.” The inevitable denouement was the rise of Sanjay Gandhi and the Emergency.

Rajiv, symbol of change

When the baton got passed to Rajiv Gandhi, he symbolised change. He himself brilliantly dissected the ills of his own party at its 1985 centenary session, he too failed to make any headway in instilling any sense of direction, discipline and destiny in the organisation.

Then in 1998 the baton eventually passed on to Sonia Gandhi. To her credit, she never promised to clean up the party. All she promised was she would try to keep the warring Congressmen from getting at each other’s throat and to maintain some unity of purpose; and, as it turned out, she shepherded the party to a decade of uninterrupted rule at the Centre.

And, that success, in turn, has produced its own consequences. Unfortunately, there is only one yardstick for a party’s success — winning elections. But the quest for electoral majority is not to be sniggered at easily. Only those in power can make authoritative public choices. Thanks to the UPA policies and practices — and absurdities — the polity has witnessed the rise of new forces, full of passions and provocations. So much so, we are supposed to be on the cusp of a new politics.

And that is the context of the Jaipur congregation. It would, however, be instructive for the Congressmen to keep in mind that since JP’s days, one school of thought has always held that the Congress is the problem. But neither has the Congress disappeared nor have the non-Congress political forces and formations managed to keep it out for long from positions of power and authority. This history puts the Congressmen under a new obligation. The Jaipur Kumbh Mela will be useful only if the Congressmen understand that they have the primary responsibility to respond to the new political economy of up-market assertiveness and down-market deprivations.

This cannot be an easy undertaking in this age of coalitions and fractured polity. The Congress and, for that matter, any other party or a combination of parties that may come to have the opportunity in the near future to govern from New Delhi, will confront a conundrum: how to convert a technical mandate into an enlightened democratic authority? The task of the leadership, then, becomes adding value to that technical mandate by its competence, capacity and communications so as to secure the citizens’ joyful consent to its policies and politics.

It is possible that at Jaipur, the Congressmen could get down to discussing the nature and reason for new restlessness among important sections of society. It is also possible that the younger lot among the Congressmen will decide to familiarise themselves with new tools of new technology that are being used to create confusion, controversy and crises. That may not be enough.

Trapped as the party is in the Rahul Gandhi leadership syndrome, it still needs to craft a new profile for itself around the limits of his political persona; in other words, it has to undertake to try to answer the all too obvious craving among vast sections of our society for a cleaner, more decent, more open political process.

Restore respectability

At stake is not just the future of the Congress or the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The very usefulness of democratic politics has come into disrepute. As the oldest political formation in the country, it is for the Congress to restore our constitutional order’s moral respectability. Citizens need to see demonstratively for themselves that public choices are made for the larger good. While a semblance of order and control is the prerequisite for any civilised, democratic state order, it is nonetheless imperative that the Congress learns new songs, lyrics and music so as to communicate that the only rationale for democratic polity to exist is to make the citizens feel and believe that politics is for them, not against them. The Congressmen are good at tactical cleverness. It remains to be seen whether at Jaipur they will be able or be allowed to discover the path of wisdom.

(Harish Khare is a veteran commentator and political analyst. He was the Prime Minister’s media adviser from June 2009 to January 2012)

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The good old days are over. Honorable men with good intentions
are no longer there (or are missing in politics). It has become a
free for all. The Congress Party is holding it's grip on power as
there is no suitable organisation to take it's place.
This will go on till one day there is a bloody revolution and India
becomes a country ruled by a dictator (benign or otherwise). Till
then we will continue crawling.

from:  S N IYER
Posted on: Jan 17, 2013 at 12:13 IST

A good article. But, it looks too optimistic to think that the
Congress will mend its ways.

from:  DR.R.VENKATARAMAN
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 19:22 IST

It's for the Indian voting public to see the sham that is the Congress party. Built on dynastic and family promotion, it is full of corrupt ministers.
They are unable to defend the country from outside aggressors, they are unable to improve the infrastructure and rid the country of poverty.

from:  Vipul Dave
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 18:17 IST

Being the oldest political party in India, the congress doesn't have to be so paranoid and make its political survival the only goal of its existence. It has the trust of every Indian since time immemorial. Rather it should try to give back to the country what it has received wholeheartedly. While there is no doubt that it had delivered immensely during the freedom struggle, it is also the Congress' prerogative to make sure that 'all' of its supporters attain what was envisaged for them. It is disheartening to see that for many Congress politicians personal gains have overshadowed their ethical responsibilities. But they should keep in mind that there is a limit to the silent suffering of its citizens. While the Congress can deploy populist measures to appease the lower class, the middle class seeks answers and demands accountability. And with economic liberalization, the size of middle class is only increasing rapidly. It seems tough days are in store for the Congress..

from:  Malesh Gangani
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 18:16 IST

Being the oldest political party in India, the congress doesn't have
to be so paranoid and make its political survival the only goal of its
existence. It has the trust of every Indian since time immemorial.
Rather it should try to give back to the country what it has received
wholeheartedly. While there is no doubt that it had delivered
immensely during the freedom struggle, it is also the Congress'
prerogative to make sure that 'all' of its supporters attain what was
envisaged for them. But it is disheartening to see that for many
Congress politicians personal gains have overshadowed their ethical
responsibilities. But they should keep in mind that there is a limit
to the silent suffering of its citizens. While the Congress can deploy
populist measures to appease the lower class, the middle class seeks
answers and demands accountability. And with economic liberalization,
the size of middle class is only increasing very rapidly. It seems
tough days are in store for the Congress..

from:  Malesh Gangani
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 17:51 IST

Good Article.

However, is Congress really very different from other parties? SP is full of thugs and so is BSP. You go to BJP and you see many corrupt and politicians with criminal background especially when it comes to UP. Then there are regional parties like Shivsena, MNS, TMC. They all look alike. The only difference being Cong and BJP are national parties.
We do see some hope in Aam Adami Party (AAP). However, AAP is just the beginning. It has a long way to go. Yet, we can put faith in it than being a cynic

from:  Bhushan
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 17:39 IST

Who is doing the editing on these pieces? I spotted two errors in the
article ("prophesy" being used as a noun; "cleansing a so settled an
organisation as the Congress"). I thought The Hindu employed better
people than that...

from:  Suneil
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 16:42 IST

The author says "Like her father, Indira Gandhi too could not undertake
any comprehensive house-cleaning. The promise of purge never
materialised. Instead, the party became “a dung-heap of defectors.”
What makes anyone think there will be house-cleaning now or in the
future? Hannah Arendt said the slippery slope to evil cant be fixed
easily. The extent of corruption in India right now makes us so morally
bankrupt not clear anything will change

from:  Susmeta
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 15:25 IST

Is the Congress party truly a democratically organised political party of the men and
women who are members of the party or is it just a political arm of a family? Everyone knows what the answer is. The party has decided that Rahul Gandhi will be its next Prime Minister, if there is change today or if it wins the 2013 election, just because he is the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family. No election has taken place in recent years to select members of the Party's Working Committee since they are appointed by Sonia Gandhi. The Members of the Congress party seems to have decided that clinging on to the apron strings of Sonia Gandhi and the coat tails of Rahul Gandhi is the "path of wisdom".

from:  K. Vijayakumar
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 14:52 IST

Brilliant article as always by Mr.Harish Khare...!!

from:  Pratik
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 11:54 IST

If Khare is a veteran political analyst he should have clearly stated that at Jaipur or at anywhere the Sonia Manmohan Congress is not going to follow the path of wisdom.Unless Congress disintegrates as JP hoped there is no bright future for this country. Mere tactical games have never made a Party or a Country really great.

from:  Rabi Mishra
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 11:43 IST

I doubt Congress has the capacity "Congress learns new songs, lyrics and music so as to communicate that the only rationale for democratic polity to exist is to make the citizens feel and believe that politics is for them, not against them." Sonia Gandhi is waiting for her son to take over and Rahul Gandhi based on his leadership qualities so far doesn't evoke a lot of confidence that next generation top leadership has the understanding or the self-confidence to take the tough decisions or has the insight of how detached Congress has become from the aspirations and hopes of the young generation of the country.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 09:34 IST

Great article. At the expense of being too optimistic, I do hope that
the spontaneous out-pouring of public dissatisfaction in the last 1-1.5
years (starting with the Anna movement) will force the Congress to
undertake reforms within the party as well as within the administrative,
police, judicial, economic and other spheres that would benefit the
country.

from:  Vaibhav
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 09:30 IST

The inefficient and the non-responsive Congress continues to hold sway in the country because the opposition has no better credentials. The whole political class is oblivious of people's expectations from it. For the political parties , the politics is to win power by hook and by the crook.In the process they lose touch with the common man.

from:  Hema
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 09:12 IST

The pieces of advice are timely and hopefully be welcomed by all those
who are well-wishers of Congress.The resilience of Congress is
exemplary.While JP thought that Congress would disintegrate Mahatma
Gandhi himself wanted it to be dissolved in order to function in some
other form so as to serve the people of the country in a better
way.But it was Jawahar Lal Nehru's approach alone that saved and
nourished it to fulfill the tasks laid out in its various programmes
for the country,nay for the future of the Humanity.The question is
whether the Congress as it stands today is capable of carrying out
that onerous reponsibilty.Bigger question however is that is Congress
conscious of its obligations at all?How to equip itself for that is a
still another question.Anyway,what is being observed is that Congress
has completely forgotten its legacy.Perhaps that is the reason for
such a reminder on the eve of Kubh Mela at Jaipur.Above all there is a
need for Congress to revisit the Congress itself

from:  Hargopal Singh
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 08:09 IST

The Congress party has woken up to the stark reality that the Gandhi
dynasty can no longer be looked upon as election winners and vote
catchers. It is however stuck with the desperate need to be totally
subservient to Sonia Gandhi and her son as there is no one else, no
matter how well qualified and capable as the leader, acceptable to the
others and the absence of any member from the dynasty to act as glue
will result in chaos and an unseemly scramble for supremacy leading
very possibly to fragmentation of the GOP. It is very ironical
however, that Congressmen take great pleasure in ridiculing the BJP of
having precisely this problem, not realising the reality in their own
party.

from:  N.S.Rajan
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 07:22 IST

In 1991 congress under the stewardship of Narasimha Rao started economic reforms. Nth is
remains the single biggest achievement since the country stabilised as one in the 1950s.

It is still not too late. Can the party start a process equivalent to the primaries in US to pick
leaders at the state and national level?

from:  Anand
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 06:32 IST

This organization seems to have gone rotten to the core from second generation after the Nehru days and it is highly unlikely to be resuscitated to a healthy state. The cancer of corruption minded low ethic people had crowded the scene, it seems, making it beyond redemption. Any amount of 'Band-aid' treatment will only offer temporary solace while the real disease would devour from beneath! Having come to a slippery slope, it is now hard to get a footing to pull themselves out the mire. It is time young intelligent,educated and ethical people come to the political fore and run the country with patriotism, honesty and commitment! That can be said about all the parties! Without which the Indian democracy itself would be the casualty!

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Jan 16, 2013 at 05:12 IST
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