Whether the Congress erred in privileging members of the old guard to lead the governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh has become a subject of debate. Those who argue that it missed a trick in not picking Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia as Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh may well be right. These choices may have signalled a readiness to be bold and break the old mould. But the real question to ask of the party is how it arrived at the choice of its Chief Ministers. Members of the Congress Legislature Party in the three States left the choice to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, making a mockery of democratic conventions and the electoral mandate. Although the Congress is not the only party that is guilty of such practices, it has become something of a custom, mirroring the leadership’s distrust of developing strong regional leaders. In this case, the final choice may well have reflected the wishes of a majority of the members of the CLPs of the three States, but the Congress still needed to signal the all-powerful nature of the office of the party president in the selection. Closed-door discussions and opaque deal-making preceded the final announcement of the nominees, to be elected “unanimously” in another meeting of the CLP. In Rajasthan, the party opted for two-time Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who had lost two elections, over Mr. Pilot, the State Congress president. Mr. Pilot, despite his role in the campaign, did not have the support of the old guard. His detractors like to point out that he did not take the Congress to a comfortable majority, what Mr. Gehlot had done as the campaign spearhead in 1998 and 2008. But the Congress leadership has opted in the end for experience over youthful dynamism. The compromise was in the form of the deputy chief ministership for Mr. Pilot.
In Madhya Pradesh, the decision was relatively easy. It was the president of the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, Kamal Nath, who fronted the campaign. Former Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had his fair share of supporters, but it was Mr. Nath, who is far senior, who was perceived as having a bigger claim to the post. Those in the Congress calling for blooding youngsters may well have to accept the sober reality that this will only come about as part of a longer, deeper process. Of course, it takes more than a change at the helm to bring about a political reorientation. The process will have to start at the organisational level and extend to the distribution of the party ticket. To allow the space for the party to grow, Mr. Gandhi needs to accelerate the process of letting leaders from the grassroots to emerge. Youth leaders of any significance today are of the second or third generation in the party. A good way to start would be by decentralising power and not concentrating it in the so-called high command, a feeble euphemism for the Nehru-Gandhi family.