Congress at 135: Crisis of confidence in the grand old party

Venkat Parsa

The Congress, which completes 135 years on its Foundation Day on December 28, 2020, finds itself in a bind, like never before in its long, chequered history. With two successive defeats in the parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2019, besides losing power in several states and repeated electoral shocks at various levels, the Congress has been badly battered and bruised.

It is faced with a crisis of confidence, which is of its own creation. The party leaders have snapped the connect both with the party workers and the people, at large, which has resulted in the shrinking of the popular base. Unless and until the leaders reconnect with the party cadres and the people, it would be difficult for the party to bounce back on to the national political centre stage.

The Congress leaders depend on the charisma of the Congress First Family, abdicating their own responsibility to nurture the popular base of the party. It is humanly impossible for one person to act as vote-getter, while the rest of the leaders would only love to party.

During the Freedom Struggle, Gandhiji could not have done a one-man show. He was ably assisted by people who had worked on the ground. Babu Rajendra Prasad worked in Champaran. Sardar Patel worked in Bardoli Satyagraha. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru went around into the far-flung villages, explaining to the people the meaning of concepts and values to achieve mass mobilization. Subhash Chandra Bose worked in Bengal. Gandhiji had an army of leaders who willingly worked on the ground.

In 1977, after the Congress lost power for the first at the Centre since Independence in 1947, Indira Gandhi lamented how the Congress leaders tried to “sell” her by extensively using her photos in the party election posters. No Congress leader then worth the name was seen working for the party. Typical of some of the Congress leaders is that they do not even believe in Congress ideology, as they are in the party only because it is in power.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi once stipulated during the tenure in office of the Congress-led UPA government from 2004-2014 that during their visits to the states, all union ministers belonging to the Congress should visit the Pradesh Congress Committee office and interact with the party workers. This was honoured more in breach, than in practice.

Out of power for six years, from 2014 till now, most of the Congress leaders have merely gone back to the bar, to pursue their legal practice, than work for the party. Unless and until these leaders involve themselves in an Action Plan for Congress Revival, it is difficult for any upturn in the party’s political fortunes.

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In fact, no other party can really match the Congress, given its sterling credentials. The Congress is the only party that led from the front during the Freedom Struggle. After the Indian Independence, the Congress was again in the vanguard of the national social, economic and political development, besides the national cultural renaissance.

The Congress gave the nation her Tricolour, the Anthem and the Constitution. If India is the only vibrant democracy in the entire South Asian region, it is thanks to the Congress. Its ideology represents the nationally-cherished values and ideals of the 5,000-year-old unbroken civilizational ethos of India. Gandhiji was the first to weave together along with political activity a Constructive Programme that included popularizing Khadi.

The Right-wingers were quick to discard Khadi, in their bid to bury the Congress. Instead, they sported colourful outfits, including T-shirts and blazers.

Finding that they could not attract the respect and attention due to a political leader, they returned to the Khadi dress. This was especially so, after the stinging Suit-Boot ki Sarkar jibe of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.

In a country where not even a pin was produced at the time of her Independence, India is now among the major Emerging Economies of world. India is a leader in IT, Space and Atomic technology, with a vast industrial base and a vibrant agricultural economy, having achieved self-sufficiency in foodgrains production that is an envy of even the advanced countries.

One can only disagree or differ with Congress ideology, but no one can grudge the party of such singular achievements. What is more, the Congress gifted the country with a democratic system, which entailed its being out of power. In the entire South Asia and the world at large, India continues to be a shining example of democracy.

The Congress continues to be the only single pan-Indian party, with 20 per cent vote share and presence across the nooks and corners of the country. Veteran Congress leader V N Gadgil once remarked that in any given village in any part of the country, one is bound to be struck by the sight of a post-box and the Congress flag.

What has cost the party dearly is the over-dependance of the Congress leaders on the charismatic leadership to get the votes, with zero contribution from them, to nurturing the popular base of the party.

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The Congressmen have got used to riding the crest of the wave created by the long chain of its charismatic leaders and coming to power. Once in power, the Congressmen were content to enjoy the fruits of office, not caring to attend to either the cadres, who slog for the party, or for the people, who zealously vote for it.

There are no magical solutions to problems, which can be overcome only through hard work. In her Independence Day address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort, on August 15, 1975, Indira Gandhi said there is no magic wand to banish poverty.

In her address, Indira Gandhi said, “Please do not expect magic remedies and dramatic results. There is only one magic, which can remove poverty and that is hard work, sustained by clear vision, iron will and the strictest discipline.” This equally applies to the party men, who bank on miracles to come back to power.

Mahatma Gandhi did not ride on the crest of a wave, but created one. On January 9, 1915, when Gandhiji returned to India from South Africa, his mentor Gopal Krishna Ghokale had advised him to go round the country for one year, to know and understand the social, economic and political conditions in India. After traveling across India for one year, he went to the AICC Session in 1916, where he was given permission to speak for five minutes. That one magical speech helped Gandhiji to capture the imagination of the people.

Until then, the Congress was a party of prayers and petitions. Gandhiji transformed the Congress into a mass-based party. This, he managed to do, only through hard work.

Now, the trend is such that no one wants to work. They want to look to Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi to work a miracle, failing which they end up blaming Gandhi siblings.

Miracles do not happen, at least in politics. Like Indira Gandhi said, there is only one magic, which can work, and that is “hard work, sustained by clear vision, iron will and the strictest discipline.” The Congress can be revived only through the toil and hard work of the leaders, who had enjoyed the fruits of office.

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.

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