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If there was one overriding theme in Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s speech at the AICC session in the capital’s Talkatora Stadium on Sunday, it was his emphasis on empowering processes and structural solutions, as opposed to the promotion of personality-centric or simplistic answers. In the same vein, he forcefully argued for the need to restore the lawmaker’s voice in the lawmaking system. Laws must be made by legislatures, said Gandhi, by the MPs, MLAs and pradhans, and not by the media, by courts or in the streets. On both these counts — in his reminder that politics in a diverse democracy like India’s cannot be reduced to a bout between individuals, and that there has been a creeping erosion of the authority of the legislature and a corresponding rise in the seductive power of the undemocratic quick fix — Gandhi is right, even wise. But his accompanying assertion that the Congress stands on the right side of this opposition is surely more controversial.
To begin with, his lament about the decline of the legislature does not ring entirely sincere, given that as an MP since 2004, he has shown little enthusiasm or conscientiousness towards his own parliamentary responsibilities.
In fact, a prominent feature of the UPA’s two terms has been the near-complete reticence of the Congress’s top leaders — Sonia, Rahul and Manmohan Singh — in engaging in parliamentary discussion and debate, almost as much as the BJP-led opposition’s obstructionism. The Congress’s top leaders have consistently refused to lead from the front in making use of the parliamentary forum, not just to lock horns with the opposition, but also to explain their policies to the people in difficult and uncertain times, and to take ownership of decisions.
If there is indeed an increasing lure of the personality cult or street solution in India today, and if the temptation to cut the long labour of democratic politics short is proving irresistible in certain quarters, the Congress has much to answer for. In its prevarication, in its inability to take the political initiative in crucial moments and keep it, in its chipping away at the authority of the prime ministerial office and smudging of the line of accountability at the top of its government, it has contributed immeasurably to the seeming rise of an impatient and angry anti-political clamour.
For all his apparent sincerity about bringing in change from below — on Friday, he also spoke of his initiatives for making the voice of the ordinary Congress worker heard by the party and government and for opening up the system to the young and meritorious — Rahul Gandhi is yet to acknowledge this: to be meaningful, reform from below must be accompanied by change at the top, or it must be allowed to travel all the way up.