Fifth column by Tavleen Singh: A dying democracy? | The Financial Express

Fifth column by Tavleen Singh: A dying democracy?

If the Congress Party’s most important leader had not trotted off to give a lecture in some foreign college, he would have been sitting with his workers and asking for honest introspection.

congress, rahul gandhi
Rahul Gandhi (Photo: Congress/ Twitter)

It was while watching the election results from our eastern states last week that I saw Rahul Gandhi pop onto my screen in his latest avatar. His unruly hair and wild beard have been replaced by a tidy haircut and a neat beard. And he was suited and booted. He looked so different from the wild-bearded man we have seen during the Bharat Jodo Yatra that it took me a moment to recognise him. And a moment more to realise that he was not in India but at some business school in Cambridge University. From his supporters on social media, I learned that he was there to make a speech about ‘learning to listen in the 21st century’. But from what I heard of his speech it was mostly about the death of democracy. The gist of what he said was that all our institutions of democracy have been compromised and that the Indian media do not speak of this for fear of being targeted. Opposition leaders are not allowed to speak in Parliament.

All these bad things have happened, he reminded his audience, since Narendra Modi became prime minister. These are things that the heir to India’s most powerful political Dynasty has said many times before so why did he choose the week in which the results were coming from Tripura, Meghalaya, and Nagaland to go off on this foreign tour? Did he know that the results for Congress were likely to be dismal and that it would be better to not be around when this happened? Why would he have wanted to be in Delhi staring at the gloomy looks on the faces of Congress Party workers while Modi was being feted and exalted in the BJP office.

There is always a celebration in the BJP’s Delhi office when election results come. And the Prime Minister is always there to receive homage, accolades and kowtowing from his party workers. This time the laurels were more than well-deserved because it is since Modi came to office that the north-eastern states have started voting for the BJP. With their large Christian populations and their beef-eating culinary practices, these are states in which the BJP has always been anathema. They have so far constituted the Congress Party’s most impregnable fortress.

Also read: Fifth column by Tavleen Singh: The rules of democracy

So, what has Modi done to wean them away? The usual answer to this question is that his government has run welfare, nutrition, and healthcare schemes so well that people are happy to vote for him. But there is more to this story. The wooing of the Northeast seems to be especially close to Modi’s heart and huge investment has gone into bringing modernity to a region that was once famous for violent secessionist movements.

If the Congress Party’s most important leader had not trotted off to give a lecture in some foreign college, he would have been sitting with his workers and asking for honest introspection. If this had been the practice since the party lost the general election in 2014, it is possible that by now Congress would have evolved a strategy to win elections. Rahul Gandhi likes to dwell on the death of democracy in India but appears not to notice that one of the most important things in democracies is the ability to win elections.

It might be a fine idea to walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and this long walk may have enthused Congress workers and supporters all along the route but what lasting effect will there be? The short answer is none. The long answer is that wherever the yatra has been there should have been created little Bharat Jodo centres where Congress workers and grassroots leaders could gather to evolve ways in which voters could be lured back to the party fold. The Congress Party’s problem is not a shortage of leaders. Its upper ranks are filled with entitled heirs who have come into public life for the same reason as Rahul and his sister. Only because they had the good fortune to be born in a political family with a powerful Daddy or Mummy to help them on their way.

When it comes to entitlement there is no political family that behaves with more entitlement than the family that Rahul comes from. It is worth remembering as we analyse these latest election results that at no time in the past nine years has there been a serious attempt within the Congress Party to understand why voters continue to reject it?

Whenever I have tried to understand why there has been so little introspection, the image of Sonia Gandhi at an India Today conclave in Mumbai in 2018 floats before my eyes. I remember that she wore a green sari and white shawl and that she was given a standing ovation. What I remember most was her saying, “Modi will not come back. We will not let him.” The words remained etched in my mind because of the sense of entitlement contained in them. It is this sense of entitlement that has prevented the Congress Party from examining its failures honestly.

Also read: Fifth column by Tavleen Singh: A shifting political narrative

We need this to happen because democracies do not survive very long unless there is an opposition party that can act as a curb on government. Congress is the only opposition party with a national footprint and so if there is to be a challenge in 2024, we truly need Congress to revive.

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First published on: 05-03-2023 at 04:00 IST
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