It is clear that Narendra Modi has pulled off a remarkable and humongous victory. The depth and width of Indian democracy requires that I compliment him roundly. In particular, he has managed to create a personalised Presidential contest that has transcended all political parties, including his own. Hearty congratulations are in order.
Equally, I stand tall and proud as a Congressman and I am happy that we fought a vigorous and ferocious electoral battle with a straight bat. We have a rich, over 125 years legacy to cherish the sweet fragrance of innumerable electoral victories at the Central and State levels and the resilience of bouncing back from defeat involving similar abysmal figures. I have absolutely no doubt that we can and shall overcome this, too.Introspection and reforms
As victory must be accompanied by grace and humility, defeat should be followed by genuine introspection and quick meaningful reforms.
Between 2004 and now, the Congress has not only won two national elections and ruled for two full terms but also won 21 Assembly elections. All that happened under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. I do not know of any electoral defeat during these ten years — and we have also lost Assembly elections — where these leaders have not led from the front, have not bitten the bullet or have evaded tough decisions and choices. Victory, like defeat, is a collective issue. But it is leadership which leads the collectivity, and the Congress leadership has always led from the front in both victory and defeat. The Congress President and vice-president have said this upfront.
Different persons will have different wish lists during reformist introspection, which must follow. First, the Congress has much greater talent at every level than any other Indian national or regional party. Where we are wanting, perhaps, is in the utilisation of this talent at middle and senior levels in positions of trust and real authority. Both wine and bottle have to be reasonably and incrementally changed and there is no contradiction between this suggestion and a marriage of age and experience.
Second, after careful analysis of individual merits, we must learn to support our own and back them to the hilt. Each genuinely loyal and long-term Congressman must get a continuing sense of ownership of and by the party, unless his facts and circumstances are impossible to defend.The Congress needs to reconsider its somewhat hasty abandonment of Congressmen with no objective or legal taint.
Third and conversely, the Congress, though a generous all-absorbing rainbow coalition, has to be far stricter with those whose affections for Congress are temporary, opportunistic and selective. Far too often we have seen such persons showering abuses at the party and senior leadership, or defecting and yet making spectacular comebacks to positions of power, spreading great disillusionment among loyal Congressmen. Linked to this is the tendency to support or reward those who make the maximum noise and ignore silent party loyalists. Merit, sincerity and loyalty must continue to override all other considerations.
Fourth, it is vital to not only broad base the decision-making process but not allow any one or two persons to hijack or commit the party to any particular form, manner or content on certain issues. Such individuals create issues which acquire a larger than life size and commit the party to defend the initial self-promotion of those individuals. This has happened in at least two major issues in UPA-I and II and once during this election campaign. In all three cases, certain well-known leaders at the senior level committed the party to a stand, the details and contours of which had not been authorised by the top leadership (President, vice-president or Prime Minister).
Fifth, knowing the anti-incumbency which is but natural in a two-term ten-year-old government, we should definitely have started a search for suitable allies in mid-2013 latest. These initiatives had to be conducted with humility, and the attempt to woo regional partners had to be coupled with focussed considerations of reasonable regional demands. Too little has been done in this regard and what has been done is too late.
Sixth, the Congress must not only select but allow strong regional leadership to grow and consolidate. Since independence, regional Congress leaders — Mohan Lal Sukhadia, Chavan and Kairon and contemporaneously Tarun Gogoi and Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy — have been the torchbearers of the party and have immeasurably strengthened it. They are the limbs of the Congress in their States. Strong arms and legs can never make the main body weak. However, certain insecure central leaders have successfully spread disinformation about the emerging strong regional leadership. We have to be careful of such backbiting by vested interests at the Centre, but equally, while promoting regional leadership, we cannot end up perpetuating State-level repeats who are effete and non-dynamic as has also happened in a couple of cases. Some of the examples have got away on account of the first lady of Indian politics: There Is No Other Alternative! This is a false notion as there is always an alternative: it depends on how well you select it and how much you support and promote it.
The Congress has seen similar bad times and has always emerged strong and solid. I have no doubt: Yes, we can.
(Abhishek Singhvi is national spokesperson of the Congress. The views expressed here are personal.)