Congress has two choices: revive or act like an NGO

purushottam-agarwal

Purushottam Agarwal | July 5, 2014



Even its bitterest critics would hardly have imagined the extent of the humiliation suffered by the Congress in the recent general elections, with the grand old party winning only 44 Lok Sabha seats, less than half of its previous worst tally. This came to pass despite what history will judge as a reasonably decent performance of the UPA-II under extremely trying external and internal circumstances.

In fact, it is slowly dawning that UPA-II was not as bad as projected, with people being asked to prepare themselves for ‘bitter medicine’ instead of the promised ‘acche din’ under the Modi sarkar. Prices show no signs of correction, the issues of black money and corruption have been consigned to the back-burner and women are no safer even in the model land of Gujarat. ‘Modisms’ like making Nepal of Bhutan continue unabated as do skirmishes on the western border with or without biryani.

So, what went wrong with the Congress’s election campaign and political strategy? Was it simply a communication failure, as sections of the party claim to console themselves? Or a failure to draw the right lessons from the heavy defeats suffered in the assembly elections last year? Rahul Gandhi had promised to learn lessons from the success of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a manner which one “can’t imagine”.
Unfortunately, the Congress vice- president certainly learnt some lessons, but ones which could very well be imagined going by his past record. During the campaign, his abhorrence for the political class seemed to surpass even that of AAP.  Recall the snazzy poster bearing the smiling face of Rahul Gandhi carrying the legend: ‘Raajneeti nahin Kaajneeti’ (the leader believes not in politics but in work). Coming from an organisation heading into elections – a political exercise – this was an example of naivety at its best. It unwittingly reflected the mindset of Rahul and his advisors who seemed convinced that India’s ‘crude’ and ‘dirty’ politics and political class need to be purified by management priests having earned their Midas touch from the holy lands of Harvard and Wharton. 

Narendra Modi’s campaign also had a whole lot of management and media professionals and their tricks. In fact, his management team performed much better than Rahul’s. This was not because of any inherently better qualities of its own, but for the simple reason that in RSS/Modi/BJP campaign, management and advertising were subordinated to a cogent political ideology and its agenda relevant to these elections. The strategy was simple and effective – a portrait of glittering ‘development’ on the canvas of a tough and muscular political Hindutva.

On the other hand, the idiom adopted by the Congress was reminiscent of  NGO-speak – the idea of empowerment turned into a ‘harmless’  programme, because the party had neither the desire nor the vision to relate the issue of empowerment where it belongs – the dynamics of  politics – ranging from societal to party formations. Divorced from this dynamics, empowerment is nothing but a result of charity whether that is governmental or non-governmental.

Regrettably, the campaign under Rahul unmistakably reflected his team’s contempt for the people. The people were not seen as intelligent human beings and responsible moral agents. They were constructed in the haughty imagination of advisors as pitiable and malleable hordes who can be won over by doles and whose ability to forget can be relied upon infinitely. Rushed addition of Jats to the central OBC list and declaring Jains as a minority group are cases in point. In fact, inclusion of Jains among the religious minorities makes the task of choosing a chairperson of the minority commission easier for the Modi government. Instead of a Muslim or a Christian, a Jain could be appointed to the coveted position. After all, Jains are a notified religious minority, courtesy the ‘fresh thinking’ of the young leaders of the Congress.

These wise leaders simply forgot that unlike in the US, for example, politics is in the blood of most ‘illiterate’ Indians. Here, people start thinking about political issues and possible choices months, if not years, in advance. Of course, they can’t churn out fashionable jargon nor are they proficient with Microsoft PowerPoint, but they most certainly make their choices not as grateful beneficiaries of charity but as political beings and as demanding citizens of the republic.

This fundamentally flawed perception about their ‘target group’ (to borrow a management phrase), permeated both the party and the government. Achievements were not projected as part of the political package of the Congress. Failures were not explained in confident political terms. As an example, nothing but absolute political naivety can explain the ethically untenable and politically disastrous bill supposedly drafted to counter communal violence. It treated not an individual citizen but his/her communal identity legally responsible for his/her acts. It was forgotten that the Indian people, simple as they supposedly are, can still see through the perversity of illogic which refuses to acknowledge that the aggressor can belong to a minority community as well.

The very idea of the national advisory council (NAC) under the chairpersonship of the Congress president was bad, which one hopes will not be followed as precedent by the present or any future government. The ‘division of power’ between the party president and the prime minister could certainly have been put to very positive and smart use, only if the party president had relied upon the traditional method of informal consultations with leading intellectuals and activists instead of going for a formal mechanism dominated by those who have no vested interest in the health and strength of her party. It is a tellingly interesting fact that the luminaries of NAC who tried to dictate the agenda of governance are not to be seen and heard in this hour of the worst-ever rout in the history of the Congress.

The much-praised personal integrity of Manmohan Singh coupled with his phenomenal capacity of silence and detachment turned his government into an amalgamation of various autonomous bodies, i.e., ministries unconcerned with the fate of the government.  He could put his government at stake for the sake of the nuclear deal, which was admirable, but dared not to take the potentially lucrative political risk of dismissing ministers charged with corruption. The party on its part chose to ignore the simple fact that personal honesty is just the first quality of a leader, not the be all and end all.

One sometimes wonders if the Congress leadership ever took time off to imagine the impact of its thoroughly unimaginative, purely bureaucratic handling of the Nirbhaya tragedy. Refusing to meet protesting youth, branding them as naxals and anti-national, trying to buy the silence of the victim’s family via gifts and grants – all looked like attempts to somehow manage the situation rather than confronting people’s anger head on, as a leader can and must do.

In Indian politics, especially for a party like the Congress, there are hardly ever any full stops. The hopes raised by the high-pitch rhetoric of Modi are bound to boomerang on his government, giving the Congress an opportunity of revival. But, before that happens, the Congress will have to ask itself quite honestly whether it wants to revive as Indian National Congress, a major political party; or wants to continue as Indian National Charity, an apolitical NGO under a CEO who wishes to do “work, not politics”. n

 

Comments

 

Other News

Taming turbulence in Indian aviation

The booming Indian aviation industry, among the fastest growing sectors in the world, is projected to be valued at $40 billion by 2027. But, despite robust demand for air travel across the country, more than 50 airlines have closed down in the last decade in India and most private airlines have closed with

PM Modi leaves for G7 Summit in Italy

In his first foreign visit after taking oath of office for the third time, prime minister Narendra Modi Thursday evening left for Italy to participate in the G7 Outreach Summit. “At the invitation of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, I am travelling to Apulia region in Italy to participat

Some market talk, some gossip – learnings over tea at RBI

A Fly on the RBI Wall: An Insider’s View of the Central Bank By Alpana Killawala Rupa Publications, 248 pages, Rs 595  

Coalition politics not expected to impact India’s foreign policy

Prime minister Narendra Modi has strived incessantly to bring laurels and much needed recognition for the nation since May 2014 when he was sworn in as the head of state. The poser which can be deliberated upon is this: What will be the consequential impact of the new era of coalition politics which confro

New govt`s first decision pushes for farmer welfare

The BJP-led NDA government has started its term with its first decision relating to farmer welfare. Narendra Modi took charge of office as prime minister of India for the third time on Monday, a day after he and his colleagues were sworn in by the president of India. In his fi

Narendra Modi takes oath for third term

Narendra Modi made history Sunday evening as he was sworn in by president Droupadi Murmu for a third successive term. Modi thus becomes the first prime minister since Jawaharlal Nehru to have comptered two full terms and beginning a third consecutive term. In the swearing-in c

Visionary Talk: Amitabh Gupta, Pune Police Commissioner with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now


Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Linkedin Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter