By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Salman Khurshid is a man of few words. On rare occasions when he speaks his mind, he weighs his words carefully like the seasoned and successful lawyer that he is. If India’s former foreign minister and law minister has decided to open himself up about the state of affairs in the Congress Party in an interaction with a foreign news agency, you don’t have to be a pundit to recognise the seriousness of the crisis facing the party.
“Congress party’s biggest problem is [that] our leader Rahul Gandhi has walked away”, Khurshid told the Associated Press. “We need to know why we are in the state in which we are. Unfortunately, despite our earnest pleading Rahul Gandhi decided to step down and resign from the president post. We wanted him to continue but it was his decision and we respect it.” A leading lawyer, scholar and author of a number of tomes, Khurshid is the grandson of Dr Zakir Hussain, the late Indian president and architect of Jamia Millia Islamia. He represents the third generation of a family of freedom fighters.
Won’t leave Congress: Khurshid
No wonder Khurshid feels strongly about the appalling meltdown of the party that has had such formidable history and led India to freedom besides governing it for 55 out of 72 years. “I have a very deep pain and concern about where we are today as a party. No matter what happens we won’t leave the party, we aren’t like those who got everything from the party and when the chips were down, things were difficult they left the party and walked away”, he emphasised.
Congress spokesperson reacts to Khurshid’s remarks
Predictably, the Congress spokesperson has reacted sharply to Khurshid’s remarks, criticising him for going to the media while insisting that the Congress is fully geared up to fight the upcoming Assembly elections in key states like Maharashtra.
Well, the Congress can pretend till kingdom come that all is well with the world or take steps to end its splendid isolation and growing irrelevance in the ‘new India’ being fashioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. Not only has the Congress been summarily and most humiliatingly defeated by the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 and 2019 General Elections, it has been on a losing spree across the length and breadth of the country, virtually losing every state election. While victory and defeat are part and parcel of a natural democratic process, what has been most alarming is the unprecedented and wholesale exodus from the party for the promised land and plump rewards offered by the BJP.
Indeed, the BJP has gone after the Congress as well as regional parties offering their promising leaders both bouquets and brickbats. Top leaders of the Congress, Mamata’s Trinamool Congress, Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress have been poached, by terrorising them with agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement Directorate or by offering plum posts and financial rewards. This is how the BJP has been successful in expanding its footprint nationally, while working to achieve its conceited goal of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ (Congress-free India).
However, while regional parties despite their limited resources are doing everything to fight back and confront the BJP in their own modest ways, a directionless and demoralised Congress has spectacularly failed to take on the Hindutva brigade and check the desertions.
And the Congress has failed chiefly because of the catastrophic failure of its leadership. Khurshid hit the nail on the head on when he said, “our leader Rahul Gandhi walked away.” Indeed, instead of taking stock of the party’s losses after the humiliating defeat earlier this year and rallying his troops for the uphill battle ahead, the Gandhi scion simply walked away, leaving his party utterly demoralised and directionless. Having taken over the party from his mother amid much fanfare only a year and half ago, he did not think twice about the disastrous consequences of his decision to abdicate the leadership for the party and the nation. Like a self-centred and unthinking general, he left his troops to fend for themselves or, worse, join the enemy. And no army – however powerful and disciplined – can fight without its commander.
By abdicating the leadership and withdrawing himself into a cocoon like a moody teenager, Rahul has not just plunged the Congress into an existential crisis, he left the barn door wide open inviting the BJP to make the most of the opportunity. No wonder there has been a steady exodus of senior Congress leaders as well as low rank and file since elections.
What makes Rahul’s bizarre renunciation truly criminal is its timing. At a time when Indian democracy, nay, the very Idea of India is under siege and virtually every democratic institution of the republic – including the judiciary and the media – has surrendered itself before Hindutva fascism, the Congress leader decides to simply get up and go.
Instead of rallying the Congress and other like-minded forces to fight back and save India from the sinister forces that are hell-bent on destroying everything built after decades of hard work and immense sacrifices, Rahul chose to run away to distant climes for ‘meditation’. There couldn’t be greater disservice to the party that had once been led by great men such as Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and Bose and the lofty ideals and principles that it once stood for.
Congress represents every state, district of country
This is all the more frustrating, given that the Congress is the only party that truly boasts national presence, representing every state and every district in the country, and has the wherewithal to fight the BJP. It has been a microcosm of India in every sense of the word, representing the nation’s mindboggling diversity.
Still, all is not lost. It may still not be too late to rescue Congress and take back the country that was not long ago a source of inspiration to the world and a source of pride to all of us. There are numerous examples from around the world of parties being written off and coming back from the dead.
It’s still not too late for Rahul Gandhi to take charge of the Congress from his old and ailing mother and start rebuilding the party from its very roots. The Congress Party is still a great brand with a long and rich history. It has the potential to spring back to its vibrant old self once again. For that to happen, the Congress needs to go back to basics and reinvent itself responding to the changed political landscape of the country.
The party must introspect on the causes of its recent electoral defeats and come up with effective and more innovative ways to take on the ruthless war machine that the BJP has become under Modi and Shah. The Congress can turn the tide by strengthening its organisational structure and going back to people to reconnect.
It must come up with a new redeeming narrative, offering the predominantly young India a new story of hope and empowerment. The Congress not just needs to believe in itself once again, it must make Indians believe in its Idea of India.
The writer is an independent writer and former editor.