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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

Congress in the bend

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

While the comrades continue to ride two horses—threatening the life of the Congress-led UPA coalition that they support from outside but working to float yet another utopian ‘non-Congress and non-BJP’ front---the Congress party does not want to let the Left spring a surprise and has begun preparations for the next parliamentary polls. A clear indication came when coming close on the heels of the Rs 60,000 crore loan waiver aimed at benefiting 30 million small farmers the recommendations of the sixth Pay Commission that will give a 40 percent pay hike to four million central government employees and cost the exchequer over Rs 12.5 crore were made public.

These twin developments have coincided with a stepped up campaign to project the first family of the Congress. Sonia Gandhi was felicitated at a well publicised function to mark her 10th successive year as president of the party; her son, 37-year-old Rahul Gandhi launched his own version of discovery of India with the underlining mission of rejuvenating the long ailing Congress.

Considering the nearness of the parliamentary polls (latest by May 2009), the Congress exercises smack of some desperation---the fear that it may not return to power unless it discovers some magical formula to repeat the surprise it sprang in the last Lok Sabha election. But as always, the focal point of these exercises remains a single family because over the years everyone has come to believe that the party’s fortunes will eclipse completely if the spotlight is taken away from that family.

This belief may have been strengthened by the mushrooming of family, caste and regional outfits that pass for political parties these days—some of them ‘king makers’. Deplorable as this phenomenon is there is one big difference between the smaller family political enterprises and the Congress—it is the Congress alone among these parties that has a pan-India reach. That should be a reason enough for a review of the family orientation in the Congress.

While there is no denying that the Nehru-Gandhi family continues to cast a spell over a large number of Indians most Congress members seem to forget that after the untimely death of Rajiv Gandhi the party did manage to survive—it was certainly not decimated—for about seven years without anyone from the family heading it.

During that period when for the first time since Independence the Congress was not headed by a Nehru-Gandhi member the surviving scions and heirs were certainly not sidelined or sent into oblivion. They remained important and powerful figures in the Congress—still providing sufficient material to their adversaries to criticise them. The ‘exile’ of the family may be because of peculiar circumstances—the children were too young and the reluctant and shy widow was yet to come out of the shock.

Many will argue that it was only after the ‘restoration’ of the family’s eminence within the party that it started its revival course, culminating in party’s return to power at the Centre. Sonia Gandhi’s first stint at the helm of the party failed to install the party in the seat of power. The harsh fact is that she is undoubtedly a big crowd puller—but not a big vote catcher. In 2004, the Congress did taste power, though with the help of nearly dozen allies. With 145 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha the Congress was way behind the halfway mark, but it was hailed as a remarkable comeback

‘Surprise’ was the word most often used in 2004 when the Congress wrested power from the BJP-led coalition at the Centre. But one surprise was that those who found the return of the Congress to power in 2004 surprising were also saying that the main reason for BJP’s loss was its reliance on a fictitious ‘shining’ India. It clearly suggested that the BJP ‘lost’ the polls; the Congress did not ‘win’ on its own.

The Congress is yet to reinvent a formula for winning tough battles. Had the Congress really been rejuvenated in 2004 the party would not have been looking for a stronger elixir to fight the coming polls. In recent months, the Congress has barely one any poll of note. The party’s prospects in the polls immediately due in some states are to a large extent dependent on the so-called ‘anti-incumbency’ factor. Gujarat has shown that it can also be an illusionary factor.

The series of poll reverses suffered by the Congress in recent months should have shattered another illusion—that efforts by a single family can swing the party’s electoral fortunes. The charisma and family factor will not deliver the desired results without first cleaning and oiling the rusted party machine. A cursory glance at the Congress in various states will show the extent of disarray in the party. There is no state where it looks capable of fending off challenges from the adversaries. As if the lack of a well-trained cadre was not a big handicap in itself, the state units witness endless internal squabbles. The quality of state leadership often looks questionable.

A ruling party comes to grief when its performance is seen as poor without being necessarily so and its policies fail to carry conviction with the people. The problem becomes more serious in a party that lacks a band of sufficiently devoted and informed cadres to carry the party’s ‘message’ down the line. The success of the BJP and the Left parties can be attributed to their strong cadres. In the case of the BJP the cadres have an additional but rather dubious role: spread rumours against the adversaries with a view to harming them individually.

The Congress has still not paid attention to raising a strong cadre well versed in its ideology—and history. A hall mark of the cadres is that unlike the ‘leaders’ who nurse undeservedly high ambitions, the ordinary but dedicated men and women in the party are interested only in carrying their party’s message and spread it far and wide. As an example it can be said that the Congress has failed to familiarise the people with all the negative pulls on it by its supporter, the Left parties, or the many myths against it that are regularly spread by the BJP. This is a sort of job that cannot be left to one family or one leader, no matter how powerful his or her appeal among the masses.

The manner in which Rahul Gandhi is being projected it would appear that he is under the impression that he with his own band of followers can make up for the absence of cadres in the party. That will be a grave mistake, not least because Rahul Gandhi has shown no sparkle in his by now many public appearances. He may have the right ideas but the more important thing is to deliver them effectively so that they drive home a point.

- Syndicate Features -

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