The British monarchy is probably still the most popular in the world, besides being the oldest extant one. It dates back to William the Conqueror in 1066. In modern times it may also be popular because of its attractive princesses; from the blonde leggy Diana, to the petite brunette Kate and the burnished bronze Megan. I am not thinking of the princesses but of another British monarchical tradition. When a monarch dies the official announcer cries out “The king is dead. Long live the king”.
There is no gap in the monarchy. It never dies, but continues in perpetuity. It is for this reason that I was not on the same page as Yogendra Yadav when he angrily burst out “The Congress should die”. This anguish was after the Lok Sabha results. In the midst of heated TV political debates Yadav is usually unflappable; so this cry must have come from his heart.
It reminded me of a similar statement made decades ago. Mahatma Gandhi had famously said that after attaining Independence the Congress party, that fought for it, should have been disbanded. As a committed Gandhian I hear this statement bandied about every now and then. Here again I am not on the same page as Gandhiji. Why? Because he had not proposed a viable alternative.
It was easy for Gandhi then, and Yadav now, to write the obituary of the Congress party. But how does that solve the political predicament that we find ourselves in? Does a functioning democracy like India not require an Opposition party? If not the Congress, then who? Is this not a case of over-reaction and throwing the baby out with the bath water?
Before pressing the panic button one needs to do an objective analysis. As a patriot (not an ultra-nationalist) I believe that a functioning parliamentary democracy is the best thing for this country. For that to be so one requires both a strong Govt and an effective Opposition, else we will be heading for a dictatorship. Does the Congress fit the bill? We could begin with the latest data available.
In the recent meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi thanked the 123 million people that voted for the Congress. That is a vast sea of humanity, much larger than the population of several countries put together, be they democracies or monarchies. Such a living organism cannot be deemed dead and done!
Let us delve a little deeper. In this election 67.11% of the electorate voted; of them 37.4% for the BJP. In absolute terms this means that just 25% of the electorate, or 1 in 4 persons, actually voted for the BJP. This then is not a Tsunamo, as some political romantics would have us believe. Even the “dead” Congress got 19.5% of the votes cast.
The problem, if we choose to so define it, is with our democratic system that is a first past the post one; where the winner takes all. There is no proportionate representation. The table below on vote share and seats won in 2019 would aptly illustrate the point.
The figures for Assam are particularly telling, where the difference in percentage votes is just 2; but the winnings were three times more. In Meghalaya the Congress got 48% of the vote, yet got just one of the two seats up for grabs. In Gujarat and Rajasthan the Congress drew a blank despite garnering every third vote. That being so, can we label the Congress as dead or dying? Let us take another analogy from sports. An athlete may lose a race by a fraction of a second, or a cricket team by one run. Do we start writing their epitaph, or rather what went wrong and needs improvement?
I am not a Congressman and know nothing of its organisational dynamics. In a TV interview during the election campaign Rahul Gandhi had actually admitted that the Congress’ weakness was that it is disorganized. Out of concern for my country, not the Congress per se, I would very humbly like to make some suggestions for the party’s serious consideration.
Firstly, I appreciate and endorse Rahul’s decision to resign from the Presidentship of the party. It would be a kind of moral victory, and his public image would improve. Those who say that the Gandhi family is the glue that keeps the party together are doing it a great disservice. Their “strength” becomes their very weakness. There are many splinter groups in the Opposition that broke ranks with the Congress precisely because it was unable to allow non-Gandhi leadership to flourish. Prominent among them would be Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, Jagan Mohan Reddy and Conrad Sangma.
The Congress should elect a new President, and fast. I am being audacious enough to propose the name of Pranab Mukherji. It would be a game changer. My second choice would be Abhishek Manu Singhvi whose midnight knocks at the doors of the Election Commission ensured Ahmed Patel’s victory in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections, and the formation of the Congress-JDS Govt in Karnataka. Since he is a Rajya Sabha M.P. from Bengal he would also be acceptable to Mamata, a potential future ally. My third choice, if all else fails, would be Sonia Gandhi, as a mother figure. Rahul himself has vastly improved his oratorical skills, and could be the party leader in the Lok Sabha.
I would also propose a presidium or co-ordination committee, never mind the nomenclature. These persons should be made in charge of various regions. My nominees are:
1. North (J&K, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, HP) – Manish Tewari M.P. from Ludhiana.
2. North Central (U.P., Uttarakhand) – Sriprakash Jaiswal, former Union Minister, from Kanpur. He was the only candidate from U.P. to actually increase his vote share by 61,000 votes, despite which he lost.
3. Central (Rajasthan, M.P. Chhatisgarh) – Jyotiraditya Scindia
4. West (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa) – Ahmed Patel
5. East (Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, Orissa) – ?
6. North East (Seven Sisters) – Vincent Pala M.P. re-elected from Shillong
7. South Central (Karnataka, Andhra, Telengana) – Siddharamaiah, former Chief Minister of Karnataka
8. South (Kerala, Tamilnadu) – Oomen Chandy, former Chief Minister of Kerala
So much for the top. But look at the rival BJP. Its power duo of Modi Shah has risen from the bottom to the top. The Congress seriously needs to adopt the bottom to top model. It recently won the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, MP and Chhatisgarh. Earlier it did form its Govts in Karnataka and Punjab, and gave the BJP a run for its money in its Gujarat backyard. So it does need to focus on State level leadership, and allow it to flourish.
Another step down the ladder that has been conveniently given the go-by in the national media – the urban local body elections in Karnataka. Thanks to the media blackout many may not even be aware of these elections held on 29th May, just 6 days after the Lok Sabha elections were declared. Normal human psychology is that everybody loves a winner, nobody worships the setting sun, and rats desert a sinking ship. Yet in Karnataka the Congress, even though it fought independently of its partner, the JDS, actually won 509 0f 1221 wards (42%). The JDS won another 174 (14%) and the neo victorious BJP won just 366 wards (30%).
Is there not a clear message in this? The Congress purging must no doubt begin at the top, but the party building must start from the bottom; the grassroots work, be it at the village or ward level.
It is often said today that the medium is the message. But the Congress seems woefully inadequate in both the mainstream and social media. It must pull up its socks. It earlier published three newspapers founded by Jawaharlal Nehru – National Herald (English), Navjiwan (Hindi) and Quami Awaaz (Urdu).What happened to them?
The party also needs to strengthen its frontal organisations like the Indian National Trade Union Congress and the National Students Union of India. Even a small thing like party workers displaying the party flag on their vehicles needs to be addressed.
Finally, why not invite the NCP to amalgamate with the Congress, which would give the latter the much needed LOP status? Similarly it should reach out to groups led by Mamata, Jagan Mohan, Conrad Sangma and Ajit Jogi, all of whom have their roots in the Congress.
The party has its work cut out and several imaginative initiatives to pursue. Where there is a will there is a way. Else the Gandhis will have to collectively write their Will for a dying entity.
* The writer is a patriot (not an ultra traditionalist) and has no party affiliation.
JUNE 6, 2019