It is also a party where nobody opens their mouth, even if the emperor has no clothes on. They speak pre-rehearsed messages, which glorify the Gandhi family and bash all opposition. No Congress party member speaks his mind, or comes across as having any sense of personal conviction. Ask them a question about the Gandhi family and they freeze up. It is understandable. A Congressperson’s nightmare is the first family being upset with him or her. An ex-CM confessed to me once on how a mere stern look by Sonia Gandhi could cause him nightmares for weeks. For if you fall in her books, decades of hard work would come to nothing. Thus, any career conscious Congressperson would always ingratiate the family.
This nice happy arrangement worked, but it seems to be falling apart now. The setup operated because of one thing – the absolute charisma of the Gandhi family. Put them in front of Indians and they would, almost in reflex, vote for the Congress. Such a magicwand family was priceless. You could be inept, corrupt, arrogant, inaccessible, but come election day, one flashy smile from the family and the votes would come pouring in.
However, that is not the case anymore. The first family cannot help the Congress party win elections. In fact, they could not even make their party win in their own constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli. This shocking and significant development will cause a permanent, tectonic shift in Indian politics for times to come.
Does that mean all hope is lost for Congress? Not really. They can readjust, but that would take a major restructuring within the party, including taking some decisions that were unmentionable a few years ago. But first, let us see what has led to this situation. Rahul Gandhi, seen as the ultimate youth leader three years ago, is unable to win elections for the party. In fact whetherBihar or UP, where he is involved, the party loses miserably. Why?
The most important reason is the rise of regional stars, fuelled by the electorate’s need for a leader who will understand local issues. India is truly turning federal now, where people look to their state CM’s for progress and meeting their needs. This is mainly because India is large and diverse. The issues in Kerala are different from those in Chhattisgarh. Second, the Congress has kept such a weak PM for the last decade, that people have lost faith in that position. A PM today is akin to our President, more a ceremonial position. By demeaning the PM’s post, the Congress has brought this upon themselves. People want their own local star CM. The Congress, with its culture of sycophancy and hoarding power at the top, is deeply ineffective in making local stars, particularly in big states. Where they have – in Delhi and Assam, they have reaped dividends.
Of course, other issues like corruption have also made a dent, but more than the corruption, arrogance and lack of repentance have irritated voters. The first family or the PM never talks to the media. Neither do they give confidence on the party’s set of values. There is no moral compass guiding the party. It is all about stage management, the underlying assumption being people are fools, and somehow we have to wing it in elections with gimmicks like quotas. The PM should have resigned over such massive scam. The first family should have apologized to the nation for violating their trust. Yet, they continue to pretend everything is normal and shield the corrupt, hoping the issue will pass. Can the quest for an honest society based on good values ever pass? Who are they fooling but themselves? Today thus, we are in a situation where local stars inspire faith, and the family has lost credibility.
So what should the Congress do? Well, replacing Rahul with Priyanka is not the answer. More than anything, if the Congress or for that matter any national party wants to stay relevant and in sync with people, they have to change the power order within the party. They simply have to turn into managers of local stars, rather than having one family shine at the top. Next, they must have a strong PM, not just in oratory, but in policy making powers. You cannot turn the highest office of the country into a joke. Even with good CMs, a good PM is required to ensure too many regional parties do not make things unstable.
Finally, the role of the family must change. They should work out a gradual, phase-wise schedule of handing over power to people down below – Congressmen who actually do the work and deserve to be leaders. The family’s best bet in future is to remain as the moral compass of the party, enforcing good values and throwing out people who don’t adhere to them. The family should not become a spent force shielding the corrupt, campaigning non-stop or trying to hoard power. And yes, they should be accessible and talk. What say Congress people? Or do you need to check at the top first?