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The Congress may have temporarily resolved its Telangana conundrum with the passage of the legislation to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh. But the disruptions in Parliament, the suspension of Congress MPs and the vehement opposition of the Andhra chief minister to his own party’s decision to push for Telangana signals that the party’s central leadership, or high command, did not secure the support of the state leadership before announcing the Telangana decision, leading to an internal rebellion.
It is clear that the chaos, to a large extent, could have been avoided by better political management. Poor political management has become synonymous with the Congress party’s current governance. The centralised organisational structure of the Congress is the root cause of its political mismanagement. A centrally controlled dynastic party does not enable the political education of home-grown talent at the state level.
The Congress has prided itself on being the only national party in India that can hold together a diverse coalition. Given India’s social complexities, coalition-building and coalition-maintenance are central to the electoral success and longevity of any party. No party has stayed in power for an extended period in any state without learning how to stitch together a broad enough coalition in a state. The Congress has often asserted that no other party can build and maintain a similar coalition. The rhetoric (and hubris) that accompanied this claim has stressed that in the 1950s and 1960s, the Congress was the only party that could hold India together. In the 1970s, the message was, “there is no alternative”, or the TINA factor. Now, the message from the Congress is that there is only one national secular plural party — the Congress.
A second element of the Congress’s strategy since the 1970s has been to centralise power and decision-making and present a dynasty as its face. For most of the time since Independence, the Congress has presented a member of the Gandhi family as the face of the party. Jawaharlal Nehru was the undisputed leader of the party through the 1950s and early 1960s. Indira Gandhi’s autocratic tendencies did not stop the then Congress president, Devakanta Baruah, from raising the slogan “Indira is India and India is Indira”. Today, the support for the Gandhi family is less brazen, but still very obvious. References to the “high command” as the ultimate decision-making authority are common in Congress leaders’ public statements. It is claimed that the Congress has been most successful under the Gandhi family’s leadership, as the dynasts have been able to stitch and hold together diverse coalitions.
The current political mismanagement that is associated with the Congress is largely due to the clear tension between the need to build and maintain coalitions at the state level and vesting power in a central dynastic system. Why is this the case? At continued…