Aimless in Haryana: On a Congress in crisis

The Congress party is in dire straits. Steamrollered by a ruthless adversary, the BJP, hollowed out ideologically, and its leaders systematically targeted by the government apparatus, this calamity should have brought everyone in the party together. But the opposite appears to be happening, as was evident in Wednesday’s protest outside party president Sonia Gandhi’s residence by supporters of Ashok Tanwar, the ousted chief of its Haryana State unit. The crisis in the party unit in Haryana, which is going to polls later this month, is largely self-inflicted. Mr. Tanwar, a Dalit leader with a doctorate, was hand-picked by former Congress president Rahul Gandhi to lead the Haryana unit. In the five years that he was president, there were no district and block-level committees as the AICC did not allow their formation, caving in to pressure from Bhupinder Hooda, a two-term Chief Minister between 2004 and 2014. On the eve of the Assembly poll, Mr. Tanwar was replaced with Kumari Selja, also a Dalit leader and close to Mr. Hooda. That a PCC chief who put in five years of efforts could be dismissed and his tormentors who brought the party to a standstill could be rewarded sent a dispiriting message to workers. Left out in the cold in seat selection, those who remained active in the last five years hit the streets in protest.

Mr. Hooda’s triumphant return at the helm of Congress affairs in the State is also indicative of a lingering inability of the party to free itself from the clutches of an old guard and an old method of doing politics. The patronage network in Haryana that flourished during Congress rule enriched individuals but pauperised the party. Mr. Gandhi tried to shake up the party but his successes were limited partly due to his inadequacies and largely because of the old guard’s tight grip. Unable to tackle the task, Mr. Gandhi threw in the towel after the 2019 election, and in disarray, the party returned to Ms. Gandhi. The old Congress way — taking the path of least resistance in governance, networking vested interests as organisation and remaining ambiguous on ideological questions — can no longer be a viable model for the party. It requires infusion of fresh ideas and fresh blood at all levels and that must be the focus of Ms. Gandhi’s second innings. She must use her moral authority to persuade her close colleagues for the last two decades to voluntarily step aside. They have done their bit, but they cannot pull the party up from the current abyss. They should allow a younger crop to emerge, immature and inexperienced as they are, and mentor them with the larger interests of the party in mind. That is not a sufficient condition for a revival of Congress but is certainly an essential one. Ms. Gandhi must be the catalyst of that process, but not much more.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 7:14:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/aimless-in-haryana/article29587735.ece

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