I write this while convalescing from the coronavirus infection. Home quarantine gives you substantial time for introspection and makes things crystal clear. The last time my colleague and friend Salman Soz and I wrote an article in TOI (How to Rejuvenate Congress, March 3, 2020) it created quite a flutter within my party. According to someone fairly senior, we had “crossed the Rubicon” as it were, in boldly asking for an organisational transformation, revisiting ideological moorings, and sorting out the albatross round the Grand Old Party’s neck, the future political leadership of Congress. The article received a lot of accolades from leaders within the party for biting the bullet. But I remained acutely disappointed that very few were willing to publicly endorse its contents (which are mostly animatedly agreed upon in private confabulations). And therein lies the problem for the Congress. Hence, this article.
A few days after the article appeared, a noteworthy colleague of mine in our informal group descended on me like a ton of bricks. He was deeply perturbed at my effrontery in publicly advising Congress on what the future roadmap and strategy should be. I was sarcastically told that I should be grateful that the party permitted airing of my views in a leading newspaper when it would have been more apposite for me to share my views on resurrecting Congress in “internal platforms”. Indeed, if there had been a forum for frank exchange of ideas and counter-ideas held with a defining purpose to get the Congress back on track, why would one risk unwarranted disaffection from the senior leadership? The party has been at the receiving end of dreadful negativity for so long that its inability to set the agenda and seize the narrative is creating a serious damage to its credibility. The party deserves better. It is a false claim that there exists a robust internal democratic process that listens to individual voices, and more importantly, is continuously focused on party renewal, political strategy, tactical warfare, leadership development and resuscitation starting at the grassroots, the erstwhile USP of the Congress. The much-celebrated A K Antony report submitted in 2014 has hardly been seen; most of us have only heard about its allegedly redacted observations when it has been discussed on TV channels. Frankly, that’s ludicrous.
If a publicly listed company has even one bad quarter in corporate earnings, it is subjected to a brutal examination from analysts, with no one spared, particularly the CEO and the board. More importantly, the company itself redraws its short-term revival plans, medium-term strategies and long-term goals to synchronise with business potential and market expectations. The Congress, on the other hand, has demonstrated extraordinary lassitude, and its lackadaisical attitude towards its own political obsolescence is baffling, to say the least (and this despite a whopping defeat in two Lok Sabha elections and several reverses in states). I would like to call a spade a spade here and a shovel: there has been no serious effort to get the party up and running with any sense of urgency. There are many in the party who cannot comprehend this perceptible listlessness. For someone like me, for instance, permanently wedded to Gandhian philosophy and Nehruvian outlook that defines the Congress, it is dismaying to see its painful disintegration. It does not make sense, especially given the fact that the current regime appears clueless in even elementary governance ever since the pandemic affected not just hapless individuals, but poor migrants and daily wage labour, besides jeopardising the economy. There are hard days ahead, but barring sporadic outbursts of a few constructive initiatives, the Congress has not created an alternative white paper on governance for India. This is the time for it to do so, instead of waging a social media hashtag tornado. The party has outstanding talent but the majority of my colleagues seem to prefer self-preservation to the more daunting challenge of bringing about change. Change that is needed and is imperative. They do a disservice to a great political movement. Their silence magnifies the party’s woes. Problems need solutions, they can’t be wished away.
A few days ago, Congressmen fondly remembered their distinguished statesman-leader Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on his death anniversary. I wish to remind them that Nehru once wrote a scathing advisory to himself under a pseudonym recommending restraint on centralisation of power. Instead of superficial manifestations annually on May 27, Congress needs to emulate Nehru’s greatness. Charity, after all, begins at home.
Jha is the national spokesperson of the Congress party. The views are his own
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.