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Fifth Column: Congress in crisis

At a time when jihadi terrorism has proved that it is the biggest threat to the world as we know it, whipping up fears over Hindutva terrorism is absurd and has a hollow ring. Yet this continues to be the Congress party’s only weapon against the BJP.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published: May 22, 2016 12:25 am
congress, rahul gandhi, sonia gandhi, priyanka gandhi, indira gandhi, dynasty rule congress, congress rule, congress rule india So far Rahul Gandhi has shown that he can do no more than imitate old economic ideas that failed to rid India of poverty under his grandmother.

When will the Congress party realise that its dynasty is running out of charisma and its political ideas are running out of steam? Reactions to the electoral drubbing last week indicate that the answer appears to be never. No sooner did it become evident that the party was losing its governments in Assam and Kerala than venerable Congress leaders started telling TV pundits that it was time for Priyanka Gandhi to enter politics. This proposition has been made often before, but in recent days more definitely by the overhyped electoral genius who supposedly won Bihar for Nitish Kumar and India for Narendra Modi.

Mrs Vadra’s political experience is limited to campaigning for her Mummyji and brother in Rae Bareli and Amethi. During these campaigns she has shown a natural affinity with ordinary people, a sartorial sense reminiscent of her grandmother and an ability to speak Hindi fluently. These are good qualities but she brings with her the baggage of Mr Vadra, and has so far not expressed a political idea that suggests that she can save the Congress party at so critical a moment.

Can she win Uttar Pradesh if she is projected as chief minister? When I asked myself this question, I remembered a hot evening in Papu’s chai shop in Banaras during the 2014 election campaign. Local intellectuals had gathered in this rickety teashop for some ‘chai pe charcha’ and were discussing whether there was any possibility of the Congress defeating Modi in Banaras. They concluded that Priyanka could give him a tough fight. Then silence fell over the gathering until someone said, “But, the Congress party will only bring Priyanka if they have decided that Rahul has flopped completely.”

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Has this happened? It is hard not to conclude that it has if we consider the number of state elections that the Congress has lost under his leadership since 2014. And if you keep in mind that under his leadership India’s oldest political party has acquired an unserious quality.

In the Lok Sabha, Rahul sits surrounded by a small noisy gang of MPs who like him come from political dynasties. To use Himanta Biswa Sarma’s charming expression, they are all ‘blue bloods’, and like their leader appear not to have a single new political idea in their heads. So they make a racket over issues that change daily before either walking out or jumping into the Well of the House. Outside Parliament they use tactics that seem copied from the Aam Aadmi Party, so there have been marches to Rashtrapati Bhavan and more recently there was that effort to ‘save democracy’ by courting arrest in Jantar Mantar.

These tactics easily get 15 minutes of publicity but usually do not win elections. For the Congress party to revive its waning fortunes, it needs to come up with a new idea of its future role. So far Rahul Gandhi has shown that he can do no more than imitate old economic ideas that failed to rid India of poverty under his grandmother and political strategies that date back to the freedom movement. There is no point in saying that you stand on the side of the poor and downtrodden if you cannot come up with an idea that helps them escape being poor and downtrodden.

Jibes about the Prime Minister working only for ‘a handful of rich people’ are not exactly a political idea that can be discussed seriously. The ‘gareebi hatao’ slogan is from a time when most Indians were poor and downtrodden and could not dream that it was possible for their lives to get better. Today the poorest Indians aspire to being middle class and are impatient to become upwardly mobile as soon as possible. They vote for political parties who talk of development and prosperity and not those who glorify poverty.

They also notice when political parties make unholy alliances in the name of saving secularism. The Congress party’s credentials on this score are in any case dubious since they have no hesitation in allying with communal parties of the Islamic kind. Remember that Rahul famously told an American ambassador that India was more threatened by Hindutva terrorists than the jihadi kind.

At a time when jihadi terrorism has proved that it is the biggest threat to the world as we know it, whipping up fears over Hindutva terrorism is absurd and has a hollow ring. Yet this continues to be the Congress party’s only weapon against the BJP along, of course, with the vaunted charisma of the dynasty that has ruled India for most of her years as a modern nation. If the Congress party’s strategists can only offer Priyanka as a solution to an existential crisis, we are going to need to look elsewhere for a credible opposition party. Democracy, as we know well, becomes authoritarianism when opposition parties become weak.

@tavleen_singh

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    Abhinav Gour
    May 22, 2016 at 5:34 am
    When the Mother get out of Her Putra Prem and being in Priyanka hi who has the Charisma as well as Who is an Actual Crowd Puller just Like Her G Mother Indira hi
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    1. H
      Hemant Kumar
      May 22, 2016 at 7:06 am
      In the past, our media continued to label Modi as communal even after page of long time after macre in 2002 and kept the issue alive by fanning embers of hatred which hampered his rise to the national level. After coming to power Modi has proved them wrong and shook the root of dynasty and is going strong cornering worldwide acclaim and pority at home.
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      1. R
        Ricky Rick
        May 22, 2016 at 3:49 am
        Is there any everlasting dynasty in the world? Any person, party, dynasty or for that matter any country has its share of vicissitudes .... what matters the most is how stoically someone faced these ups and downs of life. The most beautiful thing with congress is that the tenets (secularism / garibi hatao/ all round development / higher and good education to all etc..) it is based on, are everlasting .... and with the increase in literacy rate of the country, more and more people will understand the importance of these basics. Its obvious to become Aunt Sally of media and critics while going through a low phase .. but if you are a party as good as congress that has a glorious legacy behind it ....you are bound to re-bounce no sooner than later. Party has served the nation and its people .. keep serving with steadfast belief in the tenets and service to the nation.
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          Bharat
          May 22, 2016 at 6:05 am
          Shashi Tharoor would make a good leader but he has murderer label following wife's suspect death. . However he may succeed if Sonia gets rid of the clamp she uses on all her inner team
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            crickin
            May 21, 2016 at 11:03 pm
            Indians always vote for personalities. It was Nehru, Igundi, Rgundi, Sgundi. At present family does not have a crowd puller. Modi is able to attract crowds in North india. In 2019, it will be back to coalition type. Whos next after modi in BJP....none. South India will vote for regional parties. AP was one state which voted for congi, with stupid divsion, they lost AP for good.
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