Loyalty test: On Congress and reform

The Congress should seek to benefit from the agenda of the reformists instead of fighting it

September 04, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:30 am IST

The concerns regarding the functioning of the Congress raised by 23 of its senior leaders appear to have been validated by the hostility generated against them by a coterie around the Nehru-Gandhi family. Rahul Gandhi, the de-facto decision-maker behind his mother, has always claimed to be in favour of open discussions and collective leadership in the party. Far from living up to that claim, he led the coterie in questioning the timing and intent of the reformists who did little more than echo his own views about the party’s problems. Mr. Gandhi, often accused by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of ill intent and bad timing that help the enemies of India whenever he raised valid questions about the country’s economy, national security and social harmony, must be the last person to allow the use of the same toolkit to settle an internal debate in the party. No one, least of all well-wishers of the Congress party, would find it difficult to disagree with the issues raised by the party leaders such as the erosion of the party base, particularly among the youth, a drift caused by the absence of a full-time president, the dismantling of all forums for discussions in the party, concentration of power, and the disuse of the merit-cum-consensus method of appointments within the party. While the Congress is crumbling, the BJP is advancing its contentious agenda, these leaders pointed out.

Mr. Gandhi thinks that a coterie undermined his fight against the BJP in 2019. Right or wrong, obsessing about that thought would further erode his capacity. He has shown the courage of conviction to consistently articulate a critique of the Narendra Modi government. But articulation is only the beginning, and mobilisation is the name of the game, and the Congress needs to get its act together. The notion of a conflict between loyalists and dissenters is being peddled by a gang of self-serving leaders to explain the churn in the Congress. The real dialectic is between reform and status quo. Those who may not play the obsequious roles conventionally scripted for a Congress leader are Mr. Gandhi’s greatest allies if he were to push for the party’s revival. It is possible that reformists also have a career agenda, but that is no sin in politics. Mr. Gandhi’s whole idea of opening the doors of the Congress to fresh talent and new energy would ring hollow if people such as Shashi Tharoor, Kapil Sibal and Manish Tewari are put to an archaic loyalty test that clears the crooked as easily as it bars the upright. It is such misplaced understanding of loyalty that drove mass leaders such as Mamata Banerjee and Sharad Pawar out of the party. It is time Mr. Gandhi appropriated their agenda and led the reformists rather than fight them.


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