The Congress is beyond repair

Party president Sonia Gandhi, Former Prime Minister Mammohan Singh and other leaders at Congress General Secretaries Meeting at AICC headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday.   | Photo Credit: R V Moorthy

With legislators leaving the party in droves, the Congress is leaking like a sieve. The party that led the freedom movement under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi and that laid the foundations of the modern Indian state as a pluralist, democratic republic under Jawaharlal Nehru's leadership is now beyond repair.

From the time of Indira Gandhi

The reasons are not far to seek. First, Indira Gandhi was primarily responsible for the political decline of the Congress. She decimated the Congress organisation by concentrating all power in her hands and those of a coterie around her. Leaders at the state level were imposed by her and she stacked the Congress Working Committee with her acolytes, a practice followed by her successors.

Second, the weakening in the ideological commitment of the Congress to the ideal of pluralism/secularism can also be traced to Indira Gandhi playing the Hindu card in order to return to power in 1980. Rajiv Gandhi built on her legacy by remaining a mute spectator to the massacre of approximately 3,000 Sikhs following the assassination of his mother. Additionally, he adopted a policy of dual appeasement — first by reversing the Supreme Court’s decision on the Shah Bano case and then opening the doors of the Babri Masjid to allow the performance of Hindu rituals. This paved the way for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that contributed to the spectacular rise of the BJP.

Equally important, the party’s quest for a soft Hindu nationalist identity became increasingly evident following its defeat in the 2014 general election. After the debacle the party decided to ape the hard Hindutva of the BJP by portraying its leaders, Rahul Gandhi in particular, as observant temple-visiting upper caste Hindus. It made two major miscalculations. It confused the contrived demonstration of personal religiosity on the part of its leaders with Hindutva, a political ideology disconnected from the religious and spiritual bases of Hinduism. Furthermore, it failed to understand that the Indian voter was not so naïve as to opt for a pale imitation of the BJP’s genuine article. The strategy failed miserably as the results of 2019 demonstrated.

Finally, the persistence of the Gandhi family at the helm of the Congress has made the party an easy target for its detractors. Even after two major electoral debacles, the dynasty refuses to give up control and deliberately fails to realise that it is destroying the chances of the Congress bouncing back. The equation of the party with the family has destroyed any possibility of its renaissance.

Space for an alternative

This poses a major dilemma for the liberal segment of the population, which believes in a plural vision of India. There is still enough scope for the re-emergence of a liberal, pluralist alternative to the BJP. The BJP’s vote share was 31.3% in 2014 and 37.4% in 2019 and not more than half of those voting for it did so for ideological reasons. The rest voted for it for lack of any credible alternative and because of their disenchantment with the Congress government’s performance and disgust with the Gandhi dynasty’s machinations.

However, in order for the pluralist, liberal vision to reassert itself it is absolutely necessary that the Congress be replaced by another all-India political formation unencumbered by the dynasty and dedicated to the original ideals bequeathed by leaders of the freedom movement. It is essential that such a formation adopts a concrete implementable socioeconomic programme and not merely engage in empty sloganeering like “chowkidar chor hai”.

The liberal elements can no longer afford to feel nostalgic about the Congress’s achievements and try to revive its past glory. They should follow poet Sahir Ludhianvi’s advice rendered in his famous lines from the 1963 movie Gumrah: “Taarruf rog ho jaaye to usko bhuulnaa bahtar; talluq bojh ban jaaye to usska torna acha” (Should familiarity become a disease, then it is best to forget it; should a relationship become a burden, then it is best to end it).

Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2021 7:29:56 AM |

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