After months of suspense and a day long drama Smt Sonia Gandhi is back as interim president of Congress Party on August 10, 2019
Let the different political parties try to evolve a philosophy for themselves. Let them not be mere conglomerations of persons joined together for some selfish ends. It should be something different from a commercial undertaking or a joint-stock company. It is also necessary that the philosophy of the party is not kept confined to the pages of the party manifesto. Members should understand it and devote themselves to translating it into action”
– Pt Deendayal Upadhyaya, PHILOSOPHY FOR POLITICAL PARTIES, "Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya: A Profile" edited by Sudhakar Raje
The Congress Party was yet to recover from the shock of 2019 General Elections results, the crisis within the party with the resignation of the crowned President was still boiling, and the Union Government’s decision to amend Article 370 came as an earthquake to the confused Congress. The rebellion voices coming on the J&K issue from the prominent leaders within the party is not by accident; it was bound to happen in a political party disconnected with the ground reality. The series of drama that we saw in the Congress Working Committee on August 10 and subsequent comeback of Sonia Gandhi as the interim President was not just a sign of leadership crisis but the deeper malaise associated with the Congress system. If this would have been limited to a party, then nobody would have bothered. It has to do with our democratic polity and political culture; therefore, it needs a deeper analysis.
Since the days of Nehru and especially after the creation of Congress (Indira), a Congress system was evolved with certain traits of political culture. The ideological foundation given by Gandhiji eroded over the period. Nehru first tried to give the cover of democratic socialism, with the immense centralisation of power. Indira Gandhi further diluted the democratic values and ‘Indira is India’ became the ideology; secularism with blatant communalism and socialism with rampant institutionalised corruption became the norm. The confused position on secularism completely engulfed the party in the cobwebs of appeasement, putting community or caste interests above the party. In this period, the ideological baton was outsourced to the different communist groups. Opening up of the economy did not affect the Congress model much as the avenues for corruption increased manifold with the private investment. Attacking the very ethos of Bharat with corrupt and communal politics was the only ideology that prevailed in the Sonia era. Being ‘Janeudhari Hindu’ one day and playing a communal card in the name of secularism the other day has been the hallmark of Rahul Gandhi’s politics. Politics without any clear ideological agenda is the greatest harm that Congress system has done to the polity of Bharat.
The natural corollary of this ideological vacuum was the organisational meltdown. Many Congressmen have taken pride in providing a list of parties that have emerged as splinter groups of the Grand Old Party, but the reality is that the organisational edifice of the party systematically scuttled to pave the way for a dynastic rule. Stalwarts of the party were either sidelined or forced to leave the party. Some regional arrangements were made to serve their selfish interests. Instead of a commitment to the party, loyalty to a family became important. An irrelevant group of people sitting in the Congress Working Committee for more than three decades and taking decisions on crucial issues of national importance is just a symptom. Absence of accountability and responsibility with absolute power is considered as a privilege of select individuals and families. Sonia Gandhi and her National Advisory Council (NAC) actualised this model.
Putting dynastic interests above not just the party but even national interests has been the accepted practice. A family becoming the glue to bind the vested interests of other families evolved as a leadership model. This aspect of Congress culture percolated down, and many regional parties imitated the same. Politics has been turned into a lucrative family business by some; we saw the extreme version of the same in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir.
What the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did since its Jana Sangh avatar is to provide a credible alternative to this bankrupt, non-organisational, dynastic politics; it did so successfully with a long struggle to build an organisation based on certain ideology and set of dedicated leadership.
Now the crumbling of this Congress system poses another challenge to our democracy. The absence of a national level credible opposition with not just geographical presence but also national perspective is not a great sign for democracy. No regional party can fill the void, and no ideological alternative is visible on the national horizon. Rahul Gandhi’s resignation and a declaration that leadership would be handed over to someone from the outside family was a ray of hope. With the baton coming back to mother has dented that hope. Congress party echoing Pakistani line on J&K is the worst one would have expected from the oldest national party of Bharat. This corrosion is dangerous not just for the Congress but also for the national interest. Unless someone from within decides to revolutionise this model with clear conviction, take a long root of meticulous organisation building on a strong national perspective, the dead end is inevitable.