Congress has to reinvent itself

By Harihar Swarup
Indian people have reason to be thoroughly disillusioned with two national parties-the ruling Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party. A sharp decline in the performance of the Congress party would not have been a matter of much concern, had its major national alternative, the BJP, inspired reasonable confidence that it was capable of sustaining the centre. The BJP has turned its back on all notions of responsibility and seriousness.
There is not the remotest possibilities of non-Congress and non-BJP partiers, mostly regional, coming on a platform and forming the much touted Third Front. The Marxists, who could have given a lead, have been themselves struggling for survival. The two non-Congress experiments in New Delhi – The Janata Party experiment (1977-79) and the Janata Dal/ National Front government (1989-90), failed miserably, and the nation put its faith in the Congress party and later in the BJP-led NDA.
In the year 2012, the BJP’s incurable infirmities caste a heavy burden on the Congress. Does the Congress leadership realize the heavy burden the history has put on its shoulders? Will it rise to the occasion?
What the Congress needs is to clarity on political and policy fronts. In the run up to 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress will primarily be confronting the BJP in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka later this year, and then in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi next year. Therefore, It will be illogical to expect the BJP to help the Congress to push through its legislative agenda-especially if such policy initiatives are going to help the ruling dispensation in the elections. Only the Congress can help itself by undertaking a course-correction, and a bit of house cleaning. The Congress leadership may begin by accepting that the organization has become ineffective. Sonia Gandhi has been the party’s President and undisputed leader since 1998; yet, she has been reluctant to give her party a thorough shake up. Instead she allowed herself to be persuaded that fair and free organizational elections would destabilize her and the party set up; a rival centre of power may emerge.
It has been argued that elections would only give rise to instability and that moneyed individuals would capture the organization. There may be some merit in the argument, but it cannot be anybody’s case that this precaution has produced genuine and sincere cadres at any level. On the contrary, the leaders at the state and central levels seem to have devised a mutually self-serving protocol to keep their stranglehold on the organizational hierarchy at the expense of the party’s democratic vitality. Worse, this stranglehold merely reinforced status quoits impulses.
A deep-rooted political party, like Congress, should reflect on Indian society’s changing aspirations and ambitions; It Is still not too late to revive and reorganize an internal election authority. Between now and the next Lok Sabha poll in 2014, the Congress leadership has ample time to initiate a meaningful election process in order to weed out obsolete elements and co-opt new generation of activists and cadre. The Congress President may consider dissolving the Congress Working Committee and the Central Election Committee and replacing them with duly elected CWC and CEC. These two forums have become platforms for leaders to promote themselves, their family members and cronies. On the government side, the “core group” mechanism should be scraped immediately. It produces only political timidity and policy confusion. If the Congress wants to make its way back into middle-class respectability, it has to raise its own decency. At least, very minimum, the country needs to see for itself that the Congress has respect for constitutional and political institutions. As the oldest and most responsible political party, it is the Congress’s historic burden to inculcate good manners in the polity. It should be matter of considerable concern for the Congress leadership that for the first time the Election Commission had to reprimand three cabinet ministers. The Congress leader have become far too enamoured of manipulation. And, as it moves from one election to another, the party is not able to see its way beyond immediate electoral gains. This type of short-sightedness has been particularly injurious to party’s image and its government’s credibility.
What Congress needs is to give a firm and fair governance. In other words the Congress ministers should start pursuing the public interest policies and projects so that the country feels reassured that the Congress stands for probity and high moral standards.
The imperfect policy choices have unwittingly produced disproportionate gains-even windfall profits-for a very tiny business elite. This will have to be rectified.
There is no denying the fact that the party and its government do possess an internal moral compass. It is still not too late for the Congress to recommit itself to the first principles of good governance, if the party wants to return in 2014 general election for another five-year term. (IPA)

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