Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Forget surgery, Congress has multiple sclerosis

This is how Congress mukt bharat became a reality

Courtesy: Srinivas Kalyanaraman

    |  in ArticlesFeatured | 2 Comments
Prime time chatter on TV news channels tends to oversimplify politics and political developments. Perhaps that is the nature of the beast. Nuanced and skillful analyses may still survive in newspaper columns, but they were never meant for a medium directed at the masses. Even the chattering classes tend to prefer simplistic explanations over expansive commentary. Life’s less complicated and drawing room conversations are uncluttered that way.
This would explain why the Congress’s total and unmitigated rout in the recent Assembly elections has been explained, and absorbed, in seemingly impressive but actually meaningless terms. For instance, it has been pointed out that after losing power in Assam and Kerala, the Congress now governs only six states, representing seven per cent of India’s population and contributing less than 10 per cent of its gross domestic product.
By itself, this is a set of stark statistics that reaffirm the Congress’s precipitous decline that began with the party being decimated to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha two summers ago. That number has inched up to 45 after a by-election last year. The decline is underscored by the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party now governs nine states representing 36 per cent of the population and contributing nearly 40 per cent of the national GDP. It’s a role reversal of sorts.
But these details are subsumed by the fact that the BJP governs India and, in that sense, represents as well as is responsible for the wellbeing of all 29 states of the Republic — 1.25 billion people contributing 100 per cent of the GDP. So it’s best not to get tangled in minutiae that make for good sound bites and smart one-liners. I’d rather we look at the big picture and what it foretells about the Congress, the BJP, the regional parties and the reshaping of national politics.
The Congress today suffers from multiple sclerosis. It is stupid to suggest, as has been done by worthies in the past few days, that the party requires ‘surgery’. The crisis that engulfs the party is not going to be cured by either ‘cosmetic surgery’ or ‘cardiac surgery’ — both are synonyms for a political purge, something which Communist parties did once upon a time. That did not halt the Communist parties’ terminal decline.
The problem with ‘surgery’, minor or major, is that it invariably bypasses the top leadership, with the current loyalists being excised only to be replaced with a new group of courtiers. Calling for a night of long knives would be abhorrent, but frankly that’s what the Congress needs, metaphorically speaking. It is now abundantly clear that the Congress cannot be resuscitated so long as it remains a family-run enterprise of the Nehru Dynasty.
It has been flippantly claimed that Sonia Gandhi led the Congress to victory and revival, or vice versa, in 2004, defying predictions of a BJP win. The Congress won 145 seats in that election, barely pipping the BJP, with 138 seats, at the post. Where the Congress gained was in stitching up an alliance that performed remarkably better than the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. An accident became history by way of 10 years of United Progressive Alliance Raj, largely facilitated by the BJP’s uninspiring ageing leaders and its inability craft an inspiring narrative.
Had Sonia Gandhi indeed been successful as party president, had she the leadership qualities and political acumen of Indira Gandhi, the Congress would not have crumbled the way it did in 2014. Blaming an inept Rahul Gandhi (who is clearly IQ deficient) is easy, but it’s unfair too. He did not drink from the poison chalice of his own volition, it was thrust into his hands by a scheming mother for whom family and dynasty came before everything else.
The emasculation of the Congress as an organisation no doubt began with Indira Gandhi abandoning principles of ethical politics. But as the “only man in her Cabinet” (and in the AICC), she ruled as an Empress would, commanding both respect and fear. Yet she may have lost the election in 1985 had she not died so abruptly and violently. Rajiv Gandhi’s charisma, coupled with India’s hysterical response to his mother’s assassination, came as a boost for the Congress. But both charisma and sentiment unravelled and vaporised soon after.
Yes the Congress did return to power in 1991, and then again in 2004, as it did in 1980 before that. To infer from those returns that it shall revive and reclaim power once again is silly. India is a vastly changed country. Millennials are not burdened with political preferences and adoration of the Dynasty as the voters of the past. An informed India now makes informed choices. The Congress does not figure high on that list.
The Congress went ideologically bankrupt long ago. It is now politically bankrupt too. The few assets that it had, have been stripped and siphoned away. The family silver has grown in volume and value; the party has been beggared. The only option is to reinvent and remake the party, top down. Joining hands with the Left or aligning with rank casteist outfits like those who rule Bihar can at best fetch minor returns, not those befitting a national party.
What we have now is a situation where there is no alternative to the BJP at the national level. ‘Congress Mukt Bharat‘, a catchy slogan, is now a reality. This in turn has created a vacuum that cannot be entirely filled by the BJP. So we have powerful regional bosses and a Johnny-Come-Lately filling the space. It should worry all nationalists, not the least because regional players are mindful of regional interests; not the national interest. Worse, populist parties like Aam Aadmi Party prey on fragile sentiments that, in the long run, damage both region and nation.
If the Congress chooses to perish rather than abandon the Dynasty that has brought it to ruination, then nothing can stop the decay and inevitable death of India’s own Grand Old Party. That said, there is time yet to force the party’s First Family to abdicate, elect new faces with new ideas, embrace a positive charter and give the BJP a run for its money.
Sadly, this shall not happen. Khansamas and khidmatgars will fiercely protect the Palace because linked to the Dynasty’s survival is their own survival. This is so reminiscent of Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar (The Music Room). Or, if you wish something less cinematic and more dramatic — the derelict court of a dissolute Bahadur Shah Zafar. At least Zafar had the gift to pen maudlin poetry. All that Rahul Gandhi can creatively think of is buzzing bees in a beehive while his mother plots and schemes to keep him on top of a rotting pile.
The writer is often found gallivanting at odd hours on Twitter under the guise of @KanchanGupta or can be contacted at mail2kgupta@gmail.com

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