Decisive moment for Rahul Gandhi

Anil Anand
How sweet that some of the veteran Congress leaders have suddenly started discovering virtues which they hitherto overlooked. And that too after having survived and benefitted by the same culture- five star and sycophancy- for decades.
Is this discovery of virtues out of expediency that they are unable to digest the inevitability of the younger set of leaders taking over? Partly yes and partly due to the fact that the ignominy of their long careers, that flourished without even an iota of accountability which some of them are tossing now as a virtue, coming to halt, looming large.
Whatever be the reason behind veteran Congress leader and Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad once again opening the front and pouring scorn on what he said “the collapse of the Congress party’s structure” smarting under the overriding five-star culture, he and his ilk the 23 signatories to the controversial letter should be credited with at least initiating a churning in the otherwise dead and dormant organisation. Whether it actually takes place or not it is difficult to hazard a guess given the past experience.
Where status quo ante is the rule, even a whiff of churning is a welcome sign. Again the moot point is will this really happen. The reason behind this lurking doubt is that those raising objections after decades of silence and complicity have also a lot to explain about their role in bringing the Congress to this pass. After all they have been beneficiaries of the very culture.
Well, the point of accountability being raised by Mr Azad is definitely staring him in the face as well although he is deflecting it bravely by counting on his achievements and contributions in building the organisation. Nevertheless, it is a welcome-sign that he along with other veterans Mr Anand Sharma, Mr Veerapa Moily and Mr Kapil Sibal has at last raised the issues that were waiting inordinately to be tossed and discussed.
The current situation which the Congress’ organisation is finding itself in is the result of years of rot. It was born out of total lack of accountability at all levels starting from the top, and favouritism and corruption- be it the organisational appointments or granting the party mandate for elections.
That truly brings focus on the top leadership who cannot escape their responsibility and in the Congress’ case this honour rests with the Gandhi family. Yet another malady afflicting the party’s is the over dependence on status quo approach as a convenient tool to cap the necessity of timely and strong decisions and actions. This is nothing but an easy escapist route that has given rise to the proverbial ostrich-culture “bury your neck in the sand and the storm will blow over”- as means to sweep the problems under the carpet or simply look the other way. But the spectre is now staring in the face.
A strong reflection of this approach is visible in the manner in which the party’s interim president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi set up three committees to advise her on issues related to economy, internal security and foreign affairs when the organisation was direly waiting for a surgery. The names of Mr Azad, Mr Sharma, Mr Moily and Mr Shashi Tharoor, all signatories to the contentious letter, figured in these high-powered panels. The underlying hope must be to placate them and distract attention from the core issues raised by them. However, Mr Azad seems to have other plans down his sleeves. And so, his second successive outburst with punch line “Congress is on its lowest in the last 72 years”. Should not Mr Azad share some blame for this situation?
Mrs Gandhi who has in the past ably steered the party out of crisis that ultimately led to 10 years of Congress rule under UPA dispensation is being seen as more passive. She is being charged with viewing the party affairs from the prism of her family rather than taking a dispassionate and impartial view to stem the rot. However, credit goes to her that despite her health issues she has been trying hard to keep the Congress going.
Given the prevailing circumstances with a formidable political rival (read BJP under Mr Narendra Modi) breathing down your neck, and even the old loyalists turning rebels, this approach would no more suffice. In order to tone up the organisation quick decision making should have to be in place and time to bid goodbye to the status quo culture.
The bid to seek solace in the oft-repeated argument that Congress has always sprung back from crisis, as was stated by Rajasthan chief minister, Mr Ashok Gehlot in response to Mr Azad’s latest diatribe, will neither satisfy or enthuse the rank and file nor serve any purpose in the long run. What is required is a new approach which is based on merit, transparency and strong accountability. The question arises who will seek answers on the measure of accountability from all those now raising the banner of revolt. After all they had an unbridled run for decades without being accountable.
For example questions need to be asked as to what did former Finance/Home Minister, Mr P Chidambarm do to strengthen the party in Tamil Nadu, or Mr Azad did to develop second and third rung of leadership in Jammu and Kashmir, or for that reason Mr Sibal’s contributions in strengthening the Congress organisation in his Lok Sabha constituency Chandni Chowk. Certainly, they and others of their kind must introspect and mull over these questions keeping their right to raise organisational matters intact- when and where.
At this juncture Mrs Gandhi has a formidable task of acting on two fronts simultaneously. Firstly, to hold the organisational elections as promised, and secondly and equally importantly deal with the dissenting voices firmly. There are the ones- among the dissenters- who are genuinely expressing their concerns but there are others who are acting with motive self-aggrandisement. The two categories should be dealt with accordingly without creating an impression of internal-debate being quelled. Those raising an open banner of revolt need to be dealt with accordingly and that would send a strong message across. Or else the ranks of those revolting openly would keep on swelling.
From all available indications the schedule for the organisational elections is likely to be announced by December end that would include electing a new president and members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC). Would this really satisfy the G23 group?
These are trying times for the Congress- both internally and externally- that requires timely action. There are no easy solutions in sight as many in the party are habitual of waiting for a party wave to come on account of disenchantment with the incumbent Government or what is popularly termed as anti-incumbency. Basking in the past glory or past precedents is no more an option as the rules of political and electoral engagements have changed. Such a wait would only be suicidal.
Valuable time has already been lost in the name of generational change and attributing most of the problems to this transition is no more tenable. Also, it is time for Mr Rahul Gandhi to take a firm call as to what role does he perceive for himself in Congress. The time for politics of “wait and watch and reluctance” is over and is unacceptable to the rank and file.