The leadership vacuum in the Congress today is a result of such insecurities, where anyone seen as a potential challenger was cut to size.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress strongman from West Bengal, has been named the leader of the Indian National Congress in the Lok Sabha. The decision came after much dithering following Rahul Gandhi’s vehemence to not occupy the position having already expressing his desire to quit as the President of the grand old party.
Chowdhury, a five-time Member of Parliament and former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief from West Bengal, has been known to be a street fighter. A protégé of Pranab Mukherjee, he has also been a baiter of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Eight months ago Chowdhury was unceremoniously dumped as the PCC chief in favour of veteran Somen Mitra. Now, after winning a fifth term as one of the two MPs from Bengal, Chowdhury has been nominated to be the (de facto) Leader of Opposition (LOP).
Along with Chowdhury’s, the names of Kerala MPs Kodikunnil Suresh and Shashi Tharoor, as well as Manish Tewari from Punjab, were also doing the rounds to replace veteran Mallikarjun Kharge. In fact, many expected Tharoor to emerge as the favourite as a lateral entrant and as a master communicator in a scenario where the Congress is seen to be at crossroads.
After all, Parliament is a talking shop where communication is of prime importance; even more so in a house where the Opposition’s numbers are abysmal — worse that what it was in the 16th Lok Sabha. If being a street fighter is a rare quality among the Congress leaders of today, it would be more of an asset if you were to try and build up an organisation in a state.
Also, the Congress’ muddled thinking and lack of strategy, if not downright insecurity, has robbed Tharoor of what would have been an ideal platform for him to be his party’s and the larger Opposition’s mouthpiece.
Just as Gandhi’s decision to contest from Kerala against the Left Front, the decision to mainstream Chowdhury from West Bengal where the Trinamool Congress is fighting hard to stave off the BJP sends worrying signals for the Congress’ ability to string together opposition parties in taking on the Modi juggernaut.
The decision could also do with the fact that Tharoor is seen as competition for a sulking Gandhi — now back to his dithering Hamlet-esque self. However, if the decision to not elevate an orator and intellectual in Tharoor has to do with insecurity, it portends bleaker times for the Congress.
The leadership vacuum in the Congress today — apparently there is no one capable to replace Gandhi as President — is a result of such insecurities, where anyone seen as a potential challenger was cut to size. The last Congress leader of any stature to challenge the leadership of the Gandhis was Sharad Pawar in 1998.
In 2014, one Congress leader likened Kharge’s elevation to keeping the seat warm for Gandhi. The Congress sycophants might still be assuming that the Prime Minister’s position will be at the bidding of Gandhi come 2024 or 2029 when the BJP retires Modi. This sense of ‘loyalty’ towards the Gandhis has seen the party come to its present sorry state today.
It also exemplifies Congress’ lack of grasp on the power of communication in shaping political opinion. Recently, Congress’ star spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi quit the party ahead of the elections and joined the Shiv Sena. Chaturvedi was dismissed as a political lightweight without a base. True, she might not command mass appeal, but she was vital to the party’s communication apparatus which is as important a job as any within the party.
In the BJP, the likes of Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Nirmala Sitaraman, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Smriti Irani made a stellar switch from being party spokespersons to Cabinet ministers. Both Sitaraman and Chaturvedi joined their respective political parties roughly at the same time and look where they ended up a decade later. It goes on to show how the BJP as a party values the power of communication, while the Congress simply takes it for granted.
In Congress’ case, having an orator like Tharoor take on the Prime Minister would have made for spectacular theatre and media coverage. Even to hold on to its pre-eminent position among the dwindling Opposition, the Congress would have needed a persuasive speaker to communicate its policies and politics. Can Chowdhury live up to this challenge? Chowdhury would first have to gain the trust of the MPs from the Trinamool Congress before he can command the stature of an opposition leader.
Tharoor’s elevation as LOP would have also sent a positive message to Kerala which is primarily responsible for the Congress bettering its 2014 tally of 44 seats. The last Leader of Opposition from Kerala was CM Stephen in 1978, representing Indira Gandhi’s faction of the Congress.
Tharoor being made LOP could have also inspired a lot of young and middle-aged men to consider a career in politics by joining a mainstream political party. Tharoor is the in-charge of the All India Professionals Congress (AIPC), a position that still doesn’t get him a seat in the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body of the Congress.
To use a cricketing analogy, a good captain is someone who can utilise his resources optimally and, if that were to be a criterion, Rahul Gandhi’s lack of judgement and leadership-deficit is glaring. As long as the Congress prefers to install career and heirloom politicians and other safer options in leadership positions, it will continue to be accused of marginalising talented and capable leaders and preferring sycophants instead.Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator and editor, The Kochi Post. Views are personal.
For more Opinion pieces, click here.The Great Diwali Discount!
Unlock 75% more savings this festive season. Get Moneycontrol Pro for a year for Rs 289 only.
Coupon code: DIWALI. Offer valid till 10th November, 2019 .