The party must shrug off defeat and prepare for battles ahead
The Congress leadership has still not come out of the shock the Lok Sabha election results delivered to them. Veteran Congressman M Veerappa Moily has called for a ‘major surgery’ to revive the party. The problem is everyone knows the party needs a major surgery but no one is pinpointing which parts need to be operated upon! First things first, the party has to decide who will be the leader. Rahul Gandhi is refusing to blame anyone else but himself for the party’s devastating defeat. However, most of the senior leaders in the near and far concentric circles around him do not want him to quit. Obviously in their eyes there is no problem with his leadership. When they suggest a major surgery they obviously point to others who need to be operated upon. One of the operations they are suggesting is for the organization. They want elections for the party organization from the bottom to the top in the states in order to renew the party. In short, Rahul Gandhi remains and has to cast off his despondency and prepare for the next battle.
Elections to four state assemblies – Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Haryana – are due in the next few months. If the confusion over who will lead the Congress continues the party will suffer in the elections. The party has to reorganize its units in the four states and replace the leaders who are liabilities with younger leaders. A balance of experience and youth would help the party in gaining support of voters. Factionalism has always been there. It has been there in all parties, including the BJP. It is a phenomenon that cannot be wished away. On the face of it the Congress thinks it lost the Lok Sabha elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh owing to factionalism. However, they cannot ignore the fact that the massive swing in favour of Modi for the nationalistic fervour he was able to arouse over Balakot would have helped him win even if there were no factions.
The Congress cannot remain in the comatose mode for ever. In the absence of firm central leadership, faction fight in states such as Punjab and Haryana is out in the open. Congressmen firing salvos at each other makes a poor showing for the party. The Congress cannot look indecisive at this critical moment of its existence. The party has to tell the nation what it stands for on vital issues. It has to work out a new political strategy to fight the challenge of Modi. It has to work out specific political strategies for the four states that are going to polls in the next few months. It has to fix the rivalry between the old guard and the young leaders in the states. And it has to do it fast, because Congressmen are losing hope about their own political future. In some states a few Congress leaders have joined other parties. In Telangana Congress MLAs joined the Telangana Rashtra Samiti jointly.
The problem with the Congress is not dynasty. The problem is the dynastic leader not being successful in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections. His leadership did not inspire confidence; his political message did not attract voters. If the leader and message are good people do not mind whether he belongs to a dynasty or not. The problem was not with Rahul Gandhi being the son of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. The problem was with Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. He just could not rally the voters behind him. If the Congress relied on personality cult, the BJP relied on it too. It was a clash of two personalities with their separate cult following. The cult of Modi got more followers than the cult of Rahul. Let us not mistake the cult as blind following, though. A political cult, unlike religious cult, is perishable and temporary. The same voters who elected Indira Gandhi with a mountainous majority in 1971 threw her out bag and baggage in 1977. Rahul, or whoever the Congress elects in his place in case of change, should not lose hope and march on. Defeat is mortal. Spirit is eternal.