Opinion Op Ed 19 Feb 2020 Isn’t it time ...
The writer is a former ambassador

Isn’t it time for the Congress to ‘outsource’ its leadership?

Published Feb 19, 2020, 3:04 am IST
Updated Feb 19, 2020, 3:04 am IST
A new leader capable of infusing hope, optimism and enthusiasm and leading it from the front is the need of the hour for the Congress.
Rahul Gandhi (File photo, PTI)
 Rahul Gandhi (File photo, PTI)

It’s generally believed that once you touch rock bottom, you can only go upwards. But in the recent Delhi Assembly election; the Congress Party proved it wrong. Just as it did in2014, it failed to open its account.

It couldn’t have gone down any further, so it chose to remain at the bottom!

 

The Congress’ voteshare in Delhi shrank to 4.3 per cent — in five constituencies, its candidates polled just about 5,000 votes individually! Unmistakably, the Congress is now shame-proof! Today, even its most diehard supporters are throwing their hands up in the air in resignation.

At an election rally recently, Rahul Gandhi forecast that in six months’ time, angry young men will beat up Narendra Modi with dandas. Now, shouldn’t he wonder why Congress workers are not beating up the top leaders of his  party with dandas? Did they do anything in the last five years to reach out to the people of Delhi and win back their trust? Why did they fail to win even a single seat? Weren’t the sleek TV feeds and advertisements in the media a total waste of money? Isn’t the Delhi defeat a screaming rejection of the Congress’ entire high command and its strategy, if there were any?

Some analysts feel that the Congress’ central leadership is blind and deaf; it can’t see what is happening around it nor can it hear what the public is saying. And it certainly doesn’t have any idea of what the public’s priorities are! In brief, it is totally clueless.

The leadership has no connect with the people. It gauges the mood of the public through the words and gestures of the hordes of its sycophants who resort to massaging their egos and keep feeding them fake news about the party’s prospects. Well, a party gets the leaders it deserves; and the Congress is no exception. Most of its remaining supporters are men and women of straw who see no future for themselves beyond the Gandhi-Nehru family — so they cling on to its apron strings.

Winning and losing elections is part of electoral politics. Indira Gandhi suffered a crushing defeat in1977 but bounced back with a thumping majority In1980.In 1984, the BJP touched an embarrassing low of two seats in the Lok Sabha, but the rest, as they say, is history. It achieved an absolute majority in 2014, and in 2019, its tally rose to 303! This transformation was possible because those leaders possessed steely nerves, an irrepressible desire to wipe out the setback and indefatigable energy. They did an honest introspection of the causes of their earlier reverses, went back to the public to understand their problems and aspirations, thought through the various options available, offered a vision which attracted people, set out on a practical and doable agenda and spoke in a language which the masses could connect with. Above all, they executed their winning strategy through a dedicated cadre who canvassed relentlessly day and night because they were inspired by their leaders who led them from the front
. Alas, the present descendents of Indira Gandhi possess none of these qualities. They don’t have the fire within to win back lost ground nor do they have what it takes to take the fight to the enemy’s camp. The Congress has been reduced to being a party of discredited, clueless, rudderless, visionless leaders with total disconnect with the public; and a demoralised, disheartened, ridiculed and lampooned cadre which has no spine to stand up and fight. The responsibility for this Greek tragedy lies squarely at the doorstep of the leadership.

When a successful company goes bust in the corporate sector, its CEO can apply for bankruptcy. When a premier public sector enterprise piles up unmanageable losses, the government resorts to 100 per cent disinvestment; as it is attempting to do with Air India. The Tata Group has mostly been led by one of the clan but when none of them was found fit to step into the big shoes, they chose Natarajan Chandrasekaran. What do political parties do when they suffer setback after setback? They disintegrate or show the courage to cut deadwood ruthlessly and go for a new, daring, inspiring go-getter or seek a blood transfusion by tying up with bold, energetic parties with fighting spirit that have their feet solidly planted on the ground and know how to woo the masses. In 2014, the BJP dashed octogenarian L.K. Advani’s lifelong ambition and chose Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. Arguably, it was the wisest decision the party has ever taken!

Arvind Kejriwal has never looked back ever since he became chief minister of Delhi in 2015. Once he slept on the ground outside Rail Bhawan to protest, and waged a running battle with then lieutenant governor, Najeeb Jung. He never missed a chance to castigate Mr Modi and Amit Shah, the home minister. But nine months before the Delhi election, whether as a result of his own introspection or on the advice of Prashant Kishor, he scrupulously refrained from criticising Mr Modi, Mr Shah and the L-G despite numerous provocations. He focussed only on his government’s achievements — water, electricity, mohalla clinics, schools, and so on. He grabbed every opportunity to take people-friendly initiatives that did not depend on central help — the odd-even car numberplate scheme for controlling pollution, the anti-dengue campaign, free Metro rides for underprivileged women, and so on. These seemingly small measures endeared him to his core constituents, and it has paid off.

The phenomenal rise of Mr Kejriwal should be a lesson for Mr Gandhi. Having won just two parliamentary seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 and one in 2019 (Rahul Gandhi lost in Amethi), and scoring a duck in successive Assembly elections in Delhi (2015 and 2020) where they were unable to find a replacement for Rahul Gandhi, the Congress is faced with an existential crisis. Its failed leadership should, therefore, in an out-of-the-box experiment, invite Mr Kejriwal to take over the reins of the party and rechristen it “AAP Ki Congress”! Having blunted convincingly the charisma of Mr Modi and the brute force of Amit Shah, not once but twice, on his home turf, Arvind Kejriwal has what it takes. He has ambitions for a national role but lacks the infrastructure, machinery, experience, and a nationwide presence. On the other hand, the Congress still retains a nationwide infrastructure, machinery and administrative experience, but has no credible national leader. Its cadre is totally demoralised. A new leader capable of infusing hope, optimism and enthusiasm and leading it from the front is the need of the hour for the Congress. Mr Kejriwal can be that leader!

An image makeover by Prashant Kishor and a smart strategy to put the BJP on the back foot could be a winning combination. Is the Congress ready to bite the Kejriwal bullet?

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