Lesson for Congress: purge or perish
May 18 2014
The outcome of this election also illustrates what happens to a party which is not only disconnected from the electorate, but also from its cadre. For too long, the Congress high command has been deaf to both its voter and its worker. The coterie that surrounds the ‘family’ spends all their time pandering to it, that too insincerely. The ‘family’ has faced severe criticism in the wake of this huge defeat, but it isn’t solely to blame. For the party is so dependant on the ‘family’ that if the ‘family’ were to disassociate itself from it, the party would not survive.
This is the Congress of the ‘loyalists’; their self-seeking loyalties are for the ‘family’, neither to the party nor to the electorate. This result is the direct consequence of that ‘loyalty’. Indira Gandhi in her insecurity made ‘loyalty’ the sole criterion for ascendance in the Congress and her heirs have allowed that to thrive. Modi is no different, but he is different in the sense that he has not allowed himself to be disconnected from either his grassroots cadre or the electorate.
Throughout the past five years, ever since Modi made his ambitions clear, he has forced the Congress to be on the backfoot, defending themselves. Even the ‘family’ has been subjected to intense attacks. As in cricket, when one surrenders a yard more to the bowler, one finds it much more difficult to counter attack. No army has ever won a war by fighting from behind the front, an attack can never happen when one is constantly looking over one’s shoulder. Modi forced this and the Congress never ever took the attack to him. None of the ‘leaders’ stood up to counteract Modi. Congress’s spokespersons on television have been by far the most pathetic. When they themselves were not convinced about what they were saying, how could they ever convince the viewers? Expecting Rahul to do the magic on his own was being too optimistic.
As long as only ‘loyalty’ to the family is the criterion for ascendance in the party, it can never revive itself. The Congress was the mother of democracy in India and yet today it only practices a mockery of democracy internally. Its democratic practices are rigged and manipulated, and if that doesn’t change, the party will go on being a parasite on the family. The family, the glue that holds the party together, must remain, but then every other subsequent post must be selected through fair and free party elections. The Congress must become truly of the people if it wants to be be accepted by the people.
The party has always been served and strengthened by the Seva Dal — its grassroots outreach arm which linked the people with the leadership, both in the regions and in the centre. But Seva Dal has been reduced to a mere ceremonial guard, doing flag hoisting and being a cheerleading squad for undeserving leaders. If the Congress is to reinvent itself, Seva Dal will have to be revived with an infusion of selfless volunteers with the dedication to build the party and not aggrandise themselves. This band of volunteers must remain independent and insular from the electoral side of the party.
The Congress and its leadership must also respect constructive criticism. It has become a habit of the top leadership to treat criticism within its ranks as a threat and reject it. In this, the ‘family’ is guilty too. And if this ‘family’ wants to remain relevant to Indian politics, this is the time to gets its house in order. All the Delhi Darbaris must be discarded and purged. The people have shown them the door, its time the high command does the same. They are nothing but self-serving parasites, and parasites as we well know, only weaken the host. Loyalty is fine but ability is more essential.
If this isn’t done now, there is no hope for the Congress and Indian democracy will end up becoming subservient to the megalomania of one man.
(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)