Congress in a bureaucratic cobweb

Anil Anand
“I am sure we can survive if we have to without a Nehru-Gandhi as the titular head of the party, provided the Nehru-Gandhis remain active in the party and can help resolve a crisis in case serious differences arise.” -Mani Shankar Aiyar-
Coming from senior Congress leader and a close acolyte of Nehru-Gandhi family Mani Shankar Aiyar, this statement makes an interesting reading amidst crisis being currently faced by the party in view of its president, Rahul Gandhi’s insistence to resign owning responsibility for recent Lok Sabha election debacle. Not necessarily that he had the sanction of the family before making this observation but it is indicative of the two propositions that some plan was at work to jolt the corroded inner framework of the party dominated by the “trusted old-guard” in some way and that even the pronounced Nehru-Gandhi family loyalists are not averse to look beyond them for a new experimentation at the party’s revival.
Aiyar’s statement has to be read in the backdrop of yet another phenomenon that almost went unnoticed in the aftermath of Rahul offering and later insisting on resigning. There was no pre-conceived mobilisation to martial the party cadres from Delhi and adjoining states to park themselves outside the 24-Akbar Road headquarters in Lutyen’s Delhi on the day the Congress Working Committee (CWC) met, in which he spoke about his intention to resign, to enact a drama, as had been the past tradition in view of such resignation threats to “force” withdrawal of the same. And the leader of the day would willingly oblige acting as per the written script.
One thing is clear that there was no such script this time but there certainly seems to be some plan about which none except Rahul and some of his close family members and friends know. The plan, it seems has wider connotations that goes beyond merely maintaining status quo ante which meant his continuation as the president.
Rahul had not been comfortable with the more of a bureaucratic rather than political culture prevailing in the Congress which is being dominated by old, tried and trusted but unwilling either to deliver or make way for other variety of leaders. It became evident during the UPA Government through his controversial move of tearing a copy of the cabinet note in full public view as an expression of disagreement. He made such expressions on other occasions but with poor articulation and zero effect in the ultimate scheme of things. The old-guard prevailed all through.
But one thing was clear that he was restive and despite his own shortcomings and subsequent remedial measures including making peace with the current AICC set up, he wanted to move forward. Come Lok Sabha election defeat and ostensibly Rahul found himself stuck with the system around him clogged in the same rut.
How does he make do with the current system which was found wanting during the election campaign which ultimately turned out to be a solo effort by Rahul? Offering resignation was the natural corollary and insisting on it the only strong pressure building tactics for others in the party to see the writing on the wall. Rahul must stick to his guns and become harbinger of change through allowing a non Nehru-Gandhi to become the party president. This will not only redeem his position but straight away make BJP bereft of an issue, Congress being Nehru-Gandhi dynasty pocket borough that paid them rich dividends in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The party structure at the highest levels is in limbo. But Aiyer’s statement has dropped some hints at coming out of this situation of indecisiveness. Definitely the indecisiveness has demoralised the party but it certainly has delivered a jolt to the quarters where it was needed. We will still have to wait for some time to see whether the new form of syndicate within the Congress would see the light of the day and volunteer in allowing a new system to take shape or else are willing to wait till they are disarmed.
But one thing is clear the corroded bureaucratic steel frame of Congress which had on important junctures acted as a stumbling block rather than a catalyst of progress and change is the prime target. If Rahul chooses to stick to his decision to resign as the president, a new mechanism should come in place immediately at least the leadership issue should be resolved before embarking on organisation building from top to bottom.
Apart from helping in new set up to take shape, the best course for Rahul would be to set out on a mass contact tour of the nation as means of strengthening the organisation under whosoever becomes the new president. If such a move would elevate his own stature, he should carefully tread to ensure that the party president or the new look AICC after shedding its bureaucratic flab remained supreme.
Rahul must realise that Congress has a formidable and very aggressive political opponent in Narendra Modi-led BJP and that he and his family would continue to be their prime target. He would have to adopt an out-of-the-box measure to tackle this situation and coming out of the net weaved by the Modi-Amit Shah combo for the last over five years.
Rahul’s insistence that he does not intend to revise his decision to resign as the Congress president and that the party instead of the Gandhi family should take a decision on his successor and that he would stay out of this process is indicative of an out-of-the-box approach hitherto unheard of in Congress for the past many decades.
Aiyer’s suggestion that a non Nehru-Gandhi Congressman can be the president of the party provided that the Gandhi family members work as a crisis resolution mechanism has some merit and is worth consideration. This should only be a temporary arrangement to be adopted as part of the transition plan and thereby set some new traditions.
While success has many fathers and defeat none. Many of those including senior leaders and his contemporaries who had been heaping praises on Rahul till recently, are openly questioning his leadership after Lok Sabha election defeat. It is another matter that none of them has any glorious record or a mass base of their own. Most of these were and are Nehru-Gandhi family hangers on who were most certainly encouraged by the family itself.
Rahul must review this situation. And if he is willing to quit as Congress president, the crowd of hangers-on must see the writing on the wall. Finally, accountability at all levels should be the ‘mool mantra’ to prevent any such situation happening in future.