The flight of young leaders from the Congress has become a defining theme following the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia, and now Sachin Pilot well on his way out. The Indian National Congress, the movement that won the country freedom, is now held hostage to a family and its darbaris that call the shots.
True, this had been the case for nearly half a century beginning with Indira Gandhi’s grooming of her younger son Sanjay Gandhi as her political successor. However, not only have times changed, India has also moved on from the idea of dynastic succession to a meritocratic worldview in the last 50 years.
The question is: Has the Congress kept up with the changing times? Does it echo the voices and reflect the aspirations of a young India? If not, what future does the party have — and, more importantly, what is the future of young leaders in the Congress?
Matters have come to such a pass due to the inability of the present Gandhis leading the grand old party to learn from multiple crises and failings. Rahul Gandhi’s flop show and the party’s long investment in him on account of his lineage have exposed the system of patronage politics practised by the party since Indira Gandhi’s days.
Sonia Gandhi’s motherly affection and undying love for her son seems to have blindsided her to the fact that the party she dutifully presided for more than two decades is now undergoing a slow and painful death even as it is confronted by a marauding Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
With the exits of high-profile dynasts likely to be followed by the low-profile ones and other youth leaders of substance, the Congress will, in all probably, turn into a gerontocracy of sycophants, who will also desert the sinking ship at a later stage.
Come to think of it, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), which can be described as a New Delhi-based group of sycophants, operate very much like the bureaucracy of a State, second-guessing the wishes of the leader and acting on its behalf.
The likes of Jitin Prasada in Uttar Pradesh and Milind Deora in Maharashtra are supposedly next in line, although the jury is still out on the ability and winnability of these dynasts. That Deora, who at one point was among Rahul Gandhi’s closest aides, is now considered a probable deserter says a lot.
The exits of Ashok Tanwar, originally handpicked by Rahul Gandhi, on the eve of Haryana polls, and long-time spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi were ridiculed by the darbaris as good riddance of people without electoral bases. After Rahul Gandhi’s defeat from the family pocket borough of Amethi, apart from the electoral insignificance of many in the CWC, such observations are hilarious, to say the least.
Much before the Scindias and Pilots, the exit of Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam had dealt the party a debilitating blow to the Congress in the entire North-East. The loyalists of the party had then gone on to claim how it was akin to a cleansing process, ridding people of doubtful ideological moorings. Perhaps they forgot how ambition and opportunities to wield power override other factors.
More importantly, what the party stands for and, the lack of conditioning or tutoring of its leaders and rank and file on the Congress’ core ideology is a bigger reason for the ideological ambivalence of its leaders. Beyond its policy documents, why should someone join the Congress today? What is the Congress’ USP?
The answers to these questions have to be found out and disseminated through the rank and file, apart from reaching out to the masses with the right messaging. It is often argued that the BJP’s USP is awakening the baser instincts of its cadre with its Hindutva rhetoric, conditioned by the RSS’ worldview — nevertheless, does the Congress stand for the opposite?
Can the Congress espouse a liberal approach and a syncretic order and make it the party’s guiding principle to forge a future for the party among the nation’s youth? If so, who will articulate that cause and personify it? Could that be left to lineage alone?
The sooner answers to these questions are arrived at, the easier for the Congress to connect themselves with India’s youth and middle class. Else, the party is at the risk of getting obliterated, as wished and predicted by many commentators so that a new political alternative can emerge to fill the vacuum. Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator. Views are personal.