The rainbow has only one colour left?
After the wear and tear of over a century, the Congress is no longer the people’s congregation of old. The absence of a leader at the top is keenly felt on the ground
By Santwana Bhattacharya
The liberal commentariat has a problem. It finds it rather difficult to adjust to the loss of a central pole in politics. Those among them who used to describe the Congress as a system—that is, much more than a party, having governed for so long that it entered India’s very institutional sinews—thought Modi would be eventually co-opted by its workings, its lofty words and slow processes.
Those frontline opinion-makers were ill-prepared to transition into something marginal; being one among many was beyond the pale of their experience. Down to the last voice, the expectation from Modi was that of a resurrection of Vajpayee, a more muscular one—a helmsman who would keep the economy stable, make foreign policy his stage, but retain and meld into the overall ecosystem.
But Modi, an outsider to Parliament when he was first elected PM, was a near-complete antithesis of that. He saw himself as a wrecking ball determined to bring the whole Congress system down and erect one anew in his own image. Maybe it took him more than one term in South Block, but he is at it.
Left with no reference points to comprehend the change he was bringing—7 RCR becoming Lok Nayak Marg, and the planned new Parliament building being visible manifestations—they fell back on the Indira analogy. This was then a second edition of an ‘Emergency-like disruption’, and there was hope for a revival of the old order afterwards. That India bides its time for its own Biden.
What they forget is that, at the other end of the spectrum, the Congress has attritioned. After the wear and tear of over a century, it’s no longer the people’s congregation of old: It’s merely one among India’s many family enterprises. The party in their memory has virtually disappeared. The Congress system of governance barely survives. Rahul Gandhi may wear a white kurta-pyjama, but that’s it. He’s no quintessential Congressman: He too is in perpetual overhaul mode.
(As an exasperated senior party leader quipped, Rahul is like DRDO’s Arjun tank, which took 20 years to be battle-ready!) Democratic politics needs a base, a logic. Since Mandal and Mandir, that’s been identity politics. The BJP blended both, going all out for the massive OBC vote, and co-opting parts of the Dalit population, by couching its Brahminical worldview in an all-encompassing Hindutva flavouring. Rahul Gandhi’s base vote is yet to be defined.
He’s aggressively progressive and left-secular in his tweets, but goes soft Hindu in elections, and has no loyal caste base to prop him up. None of that caste cushion of the Yadav boys—Akhilesh in UP, Tejashwi in Bihar. And the Congress creates a surround sound for itself in Rahul’s indeterminate voice.
It’s this confusion, and the disconnect with the ground, that killed it in Bihar. (In Patna, a Khadi Gram Udyog showroom attendant had once told this writer: “We’re the only loyal Congress voters here!”) It wangled 70 tickets, but found few valuable candidates.
The Bihar PCC is packed with Brahmins and Thakurs—and all ‘passengers’, for 52% Brahmins, 51% Bhumihars, 55% Rajput and 59% other elite castes voted NDA. (A euphemism for the BJP, with Nitish Kumar a shadow of his former self, virtually a captive of Modi-Shah.) And as a Congress leader bitterly remarked, “all the minority appeasement we’re accused of got us nothing either”. In Muslim-dominated Seemanchal, Asaduddin Owaisi’s identity politics triumphed over the Congress’s wimpish secularism. Tejashwi could not pull the GOP along the way the DMK did in Tamil Nadu in 2019.
And who did well? The BJP (which is now far right) and the far Left. Why? Both have boots on the grounds and have been slugging it out for years. The Congress is just a brand that’s mostly not available in the market. An occasional wayfarer can’t buy loyalties, a paratrooper can’t win a war. You need ground troops or RSS-like indoctrination. The Congress has neither. As for leaders, non-Gandhis who show any spark are either benched or ousted. Even a Priyanka Vadra was not fielded in Bihar, lest she corners credit in what was perceived as an easy, piggyback ride.
Does the Congress have any figure of worth from the top-tier castes? Does it have a powerful OBC face? Has it nurtured any Dalit or Adivasi leader of significance in places where it matters? Rahul’s idea of social engineering has been to put an Ashok Tanwar, a young Dalit, to head the Haryana PCC over senior, strong Jat leaders who control the party’s vote base. Tanwar has since decamped. Even when he has the right idea, the party will itself resist.
Hardik Patel, a young Patidar installed over well-entrenched Gujarat PCC leaders, will inevitably face sabotage from within. In the rest of the landscape, the BJP has gobbled up the Congress—leader, cadre, voter, all at one go! In the Karnataka bypolls, the Vokkaliga PCC chief D K Shivakumar couldn’t save his own backyard. Andhra/Telangana have been practically written off.
The absence of a leader at the top is keenly felt on the ground. Neither Priyanka nor Rahul has bothered to travel anywhere in the rest of India, and Sonia is too ailing to step out of her lonely fortress. If Rahul wants to allow a serious fight to build up in the polity, he has to either take over but not run the INC like it belongs to a family—it belongs to the people of India. Or be willing to step aside and work under any other Congressman/woman without the entitlement of being a Gandhi.
Courtesy : TNIE