In its current form, Congress has little chance of revival

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Published: August 14, 2019 1:17 AM

To compel the party to change fundamentally, he insisted that the party look for its chief from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Sonia Gandhi, as the party’s interim presidentSonia Gandhi, as the party’s interim president

Even those who believed Rahul Gandhi failed to deliver in the time he was the Congress president would agree that he did the right thing in resigning—not just offering to resign—and in asking for accountability from the party’s leaders for its performance and a transformation of the party itself, including its leadership. To compel the party to change fundamentally, he insisted that the party look for its chief from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family. Two and half months on, the old—and spent—guard still steers the Congress Working Committee, and last week, chose to name its ailing former president, Sonia Gandhi, as the party’s interim president. Such is the morass the party finds itself in, or is it that no leader wants to work under another; as long as a Rahul or a Sonia are in charge, it is possible, each of these leaders feels they have a chance at the top job. Or is it that, in the absence of any coherent ideology, or shared political vision, the absence of the Nehru-Gandhi glue will see the party splinter? Even the powerful passions invoked by prime minister Modi revoking Article 370 has not got the party to come together with a strong message; if the old guard is to be blamed for rallying around Sonia Gandhi—after Rahul and Priyanka refused their entreaties—the young brigade didn’t acquit itself with any distinction either. After endorsing the revocation of Article 370 through their tweets, even while saying the government should have had a wider consultation, the younger leaders of the party also chose to keep quiet and didn’t push for the party endorsing their point of view through its formal resolution.

If the party is serious about offering voters a credible option to Modi, instead of being his B team, it needs to just look at how the BJP recast itself after the 2009 defeat. Forcing its veterans to make space for new, young leaders, who had demonstrated leadership in the states, reversed the political fortunes of the party, and how! In the time, Sonia Gandhi is the interim chief—predictably, the party has no timeline for how long this phase is to last—if the party is to have a future, it has to make a break from its culture of entitlement and “high command”; the nomination and puppetry culture that the party is synonymous with must go. Elections for leadership positions, undertaken in the right earnest, should instead become the norm. To be sure, some of those whose lineage brought them to where they were may also get chosen through the party elections, but that will show that they deserved to come up. The party’s new leader has to be hungry for the job, someone who is willing, and capable, to do whatever it takes to get the job; even those in the Congress who despise Modi and home minister Amit Shah will admit that the duo are hungry for their job, and that is why they treat every election, including to tiny states and to local bodies, with the same make-or-break enthusiasm.

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