Congress facing certain death if Gandhis hang on to power, refuse to let meritocracy take over through credible process

Not even in 2014, when the Congress suffered the worst drubbing in its history, did the Grand Old Party look so purposeless and adrift. With each passing day, the party falls deeper and deeper into a quagmire. A thousand mutinies are brewing, state units are becoming factionalised, alliance are looking shaky, top leaders are avoiding the media, spokespersons are tweeting about chai, while the Gandhis are sulking. The passing away of the Congress should matter to none. It is long overdue. The party is paying the price for its ideological bankruptcy and leadership vacuum. It doesn’t deserve even an obituary.

And yet we must be worried.

A government that enjoys a brute majority in Lok Sabha and is inching closer towards a Rajya Sabha majority deserves a strong Opposition. This critical system of checks-and-balances, intrinsic to Parliamentary democracy, is in danger of failure with the demise of the Congress. The BJP has no national alternative and the regional parties are busy saving their own skins. The Opposition is in a shambles.

It is instructive to remember that even in its hour of demise when it managed to win just 52 out of 543 seats and got wiped out in 18 states and Union Territories, over 12 crore voters reposed their faith in the Congress. For their sake and for the sake of democracy, the party needs to get its act together. However, nothing symbolises the party’s apathy more aptly than the actions of Rahul Gandhi, whose indecision and shenanigans have hastened the party’s downfall.

As always, the Gandhi scion’s actions have been farcical. He wants the entire world to believe that he has resigned from his post as Congress president to usher in some “accountability”. But neither there is conviction in his action, nor he does he appear to have a game plan in place. In a democracy, failure in public office must be followed by accountability. Leaders who have failed to inspire must make way for those who can take the party forward, give it a new direction. Why is it, then, that Rahul’s “resignation” has become the centrepiece of the Congress pantomime that is eating away whatever is left of the party’s credibility?

That is because Rahul Gandhi’s resignation is mere gaslighting — as meaningless as his electoral campaign. The rigmarole around the dynast’s “decision to quit” captures in a nutshell all that is wrong with the Congress. If Rahul, who is apparently “hell-bent” on quitting, is serious, what made him let the Congress Working Committee — the party’s highest decision-making body — pass a resolution asking him not to quit?

Or, as this article notes, “Rahul is apparently resolute about not withdrawing his resignation but curiously, last week, he appointed a new party president in Chhattisgarh in place of Bhupesh Baghel, the chief minister. But who has the spine or the pluck to ask what the dumb charades mean?”

The Gandhi scion has reportedly “turned down” another request by chief ministers of Congress-ruled states asking him to continue while presiding over a meeting with Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan), Captain Amarinder Singh (Punjab), Kamal Nath (Madhya Pradesh), Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) and V Narayanasamy (Puducherry) where the chief ministers took “moral responsibility” for the debacle in Lok Sabha polls and impressed upon Rahul that his visionary leadership is needed at this hour of crisis.

“We want that in today’s circumstances, Rahul’s message to the country of doing issue-based politics is seen by everyone, and only he can lead the party… We firmly believe that only he can lead the party in the current scenario, his commitment towards well-being of our country and countrymen is un-compromised and unmatched,” said Gehlot. Rahul apparently had a “heart-to-heart” talk with the leaders.

The Rajasthan chief minister is not to blame. The party veteran is clutching at straws. He is worried about the future of Congress and sees the Gandhis as the only glue that could still hold the ramshackle and demoralised outfit together. The concern of Gehlot — and countless others Congress leaders like him — stems from the fact that Rahul’s “resignation”, instead of being a moment of rare clarity, has introduced more confusion within the party rank and file. It has deepened the existential crisis.

It has been more than a month since Rahul announced his decision on 25 May to “resign”, yet nobody in the highest echelons of the party knows what exactly it means. What should have been a commendable step has degenerated into another farce. The best course of action for the party, following Rahul’s announcement, would have been to disband the unelected CWC (comprising mostly family retainers), hold internal elections to the highest decision-making body and start looking for a party president in a manner that is credible, transparent and thorough.

Rahul could have also initiated a process of rebuilding the party by appointing newer faces in place of the middle-rung leaders and office-bearers who have quit since the debacle (around 150 of them). That would have done two things. One, it would have restored some of Congress’ lost credibility as a national party. Two, it would have allowed the party to be helmed by a talented politician who may bring in some ideological clarity and professionalism; give the party a sense of new direction and vision. There is no dearth of independent-minded, talented, hard-working politicians within the Congress. Allowing them to contest for the top job will be a vote of confidence for meritocracy and strengthen the party.

Instead, we find Rahul still pulling the strings despite “tendering his resignation” and reports are emerging of the Gandhi scion getting the role of the party’s “supreme leader” minus the office, and his sister Priyanka — who came a cropper — being touted as the prime ministerial candidate for 2024. It would be a return to the same model that we saw from 2004 to 2014 when the Gandhis enjoyed all the perks of power sans responsibility.

If the speculation quoted above is correct, then what purpose would be served by getting a non-Gandhi to serve as party president. She or he would be a mere proxy, a dummy in the hands of ringmasters operating from 10, Janpath, and 12, Tughlaq Lane. As this piece argues, “[If] the Gandhi family intends to remain the puppeteers controlling the strings by which the next party president’s future hangs, they may as well give up on the insistence on quitting. For real change, the Congress needs a new leader. One who does not need to seek the approval or affection of the Gandhis and is able to be her own person.”

But the ‘problem’ with this approach is that the Gandhis, used to enjoying unbridled power for decades, may face eventual irrelevance. So far, members of the family have shown no inclination to relinquish power even after running the party aground. Can they take a selfless step, remove themselves from power and let meritocracy be the buzzword? It could be the only way to save the GOP, but chances are remote.