Why India needs the Congress

Defeatism and carping should not distract from the necessary party reform that Rahul Gandhi has taken on.

Written by Komireddi Ramulu | Updated: May 30, 2014 8:10 am
Each day, anonymous quotes by “senior” Congress leaders fill the newspapers, holding Rahul Gandhi and his core team of young advisors culpable for the party’s electoral defeat Each day, anonymous quotes by “senior” Congress leaders fill the newspapers, holding Rahul Gandhi and his core team of young advisors culpable for the party’s electoral defeat.

The ascent of Narendra Modi represents the most significant challenge to Indian pluralism since the foundation of the Indian republic. Modi is being applauded for carrying the BJP to power with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. Yet it’s important to remind ourselves that there isn’t a single Muslim among the 282 BJP MPs: India’s largest minority has no representation in the ruling party. Committed doctrinally to privileging one set of Indians at the expense of all others, the BJP invites constant invigilation in government.

The task of protecting the Indian Constitution from potential Hindutva onslaughts rests with the opposition. And for all its manifest failures in government, the Congress party remains the sole national opponent of the BJP. Its ideology, particularly on the question of identity, is antithetical to the BJP’s. Even at its weakest, the Congress remains a poster child of religious pluralism: its emaciated congregation of 44 MPs contains representatives of every major faith. But instead of recalibrating itself for the onerous new responsibility ahead, the Congress is, in the name of “accountability”, playing to the benefit of its rivals. The clamour for accountability — which is a barely disguised demand for the attenuation of the Gandhis’ prominence in the party — has come primarily from those who cheered on Modi’s rise.

More dismaying is the carping within the Congress. Each day, anonymous quotes by “senior” Congress leaders fill the newspapers, holding Rahul Gandhi and his core team of young advisors culpable for the party’s electoral defeat. Rahul, we are told, was “misled” by his team into making all the wrong choices. Some argue that access to the leadership was restricted by Rahul’s “coterie”; others claim that the counsel of senior leaders was neglected during the distribution of tickets to make way for political unknowns. But read closely, and you notice that the criticism now being directed at Rahul and his team has little to do with imposing accountability. If anything, its purpose is to forestall meaningful introspection for superficial displays of self-correction: put on a grave face, blame a handful of energetic young advisors in Delhi for a countrywide drubbing whose causes are manifold, and return to business as usual. As such, the attempt to scapegoat individuals is the work of disgruntled old Congress hands petrified by the reform of the party initiated by Rahul and overseen by his team.

After all, for all the epithets hurled at him by critics who see him as a “prince”, Rahul Gandhi’s most significant achievement within the Congress has been to place it on an irreversible path to democratisation. The irony of his leadership is that he has wielded his apparently unquestioned authority to dilute his own hold over his inheritance. Consider, for instance, the ordinance promulgated hastily by the Union cabinet to exempt legislators convicted in criminal cases from disqualification. It enjoyed the broad support of major partners in the UPA, who saw it as a vital insurance policy that protected tainted but bankable politicians from judicial elimination. Rahul Gandhi’s brusque intervention killed off the profoundly anti-democratic ordinance. This seemingly imperious intervention embarrassed the Congress and confounded its critics — but if it was indicative of the Gandhis’ authority in the party, it was evidence also of Rahul’s ambition to deploy that authority to make politics transparent and politicians answerable.

The Congress party’s greatest asset is its expansive and deep-rooted organisational network: it has a presence in virtually every hamlet of the country. But for too long, this formidable political machine, built during the freedom struggle, was left to decay by the party’s numerous regional and national leaders who, neglecting ordinary workers, sought to erect structures of patronage around themselves. Rahul, upon being elected vice president of the Congress last year, resolved to rescue the party from obsolescence by opening it up to its deserted workers. Panic swept through the old guard as the new  vice president, aided by a nonpartisan team of advisors, initiated a drive towards modernisation. This was followed by the proposal to democratise the distribution of party tickets by implementing US-style primaries across India — a tremendous boost to internal democracy, but also a direct threat to those who profited from entrenched structures of patronage within the Congress.

The party’s decimation in the general elections has suddenly invigorated all those who feared a marginal future in a reformed Congress.  But to pronounce the renovation inaugurated by Rahul Gandhi a failure because the Congress did not secure adequate seats in the general elections is to mislead the public about its purpose — it was intended to make the Congress gradually fit for the 21st century, not to yield immediate electoral dividends. The BJP’s triumph is the culmination of a six-decade-long struggle to build a nationwide organisation; the Congress’s decline, on the other hand, is the consequence of a prolonged neglect of its health by its many custodians. This is the imbalance that Rahul Gandhi’s reforms are designed to fix. To halt them now would be to sacrifice long-term gains for the mere impression, in the short-term, of accountability.

Now, more than ever, India needs a competent opposition in Parliament. The immediate task ahead for members of the Congress is to unite behind the leadership. And for those outside, rather than insisting on a Congress sans the Gandhi family, it might serve us better to be realistic — to accept that abrupt change cannot come easily to an old and obstinate beast like the Congress, and that the party’s top-down nature may impose discipline on its ranks and save it from imminent extinction as Modi assumes charge. This can only be good for India: a united Congress can defend us more ably from majoritarian assaults than a fractured entity ever could. The Congress, severely pulverised, needs urgently to cease playing to the advantage of its adversaries and regroup. If it does not, the loss will be India’s: at stake is the very idea of India.

The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer, a former legislator in Andhra Pradesh, and a senior Congress party member in Telangana

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  1. A
    May 30, 2014 at 9:46 am
    Congress with dynasty would make India equal to a banana republic . The practice of secularism should be to respect all religions . The current proponents are no better than the TALIBAN - using it for vote bank politic and demonising of Hinduism.
  2. C
    May 29, 2014 at 8:54 pm
    A completely baseless article. The question is what has congress done for the muslims other than doling out freebies to them at tax payer's expense. These freebies provide a psychological bonding of muslims to congress, but do not uplift the muslims in any way. It keeps them shackled in their ghettos and primitive mindsets by not encouraging them to partite and merge with mainstream India.You are correct that BJP does not have a single muslim MP and that should certainly change as representation from all walks of life is important in any democratic process. But it is not the BJP who shuns out the muslims. It is the muslims who have shunned themselves out of BJP under the disillusion that Congress is their sole savior. Yes, the godhra riots is and always will be a dark chapter in our PM's history. But he's determined to make life more inclusive for the muslims rather than keeping them ghettoed in -- as the congress diddia does not need a party from which a prime minister (who is supposed to be "Prime") dare not even sneeze without permission. Rahul's public mockery of the PM is not something to be proud of. It was a disgusting shameful premediated drama that went bad were the PM was very likely forced to bring about such an undemocratic ordinance (do you really believe that MMS is the kind of guy who might say "let all the criminals roam free" ?) after which he was then asked to remain a mute spectator to insults heaped on him. There was nothing graceful or dignified in MMS deafening silence on every matter alluding to this country. If this is the kind of leaders that Congress wants to pitch forward (and Rahul would have been no different ... everyone knows what a mama's boy he is), then the country is much better off without them.Let's wait and see what the BJP does before saying we need congress to come back. I'm not a saffron flag waving . But I am hoping they turn out to be far less evil than a mafia run party.
  3. I
    May 30, 2014 at 7:56 pm
    Excellent analysis. Write should print this out and read it several times.
  4. I
    May 30, 2014 at 7:52 pm
    Many of the readers have offered excellent advice in their comments for the writer who clearly has a blind spot. Author, please watch the AG-RG interview, if you still don't get it, see the spoofs and entertain yourself.
  5. P
    May 30, 2014 at 6:28 pm
    India doesn't need party of looters and pseudo secularist. If they work in the interest of people of all religion and also the nation then they are OK as opposition party. They have looted more than British and mogul together. They should be ousted for ever if they continue to minority appeasing.
  6. A
    abbai THOTA
    May 30, 2014 at 1:32 pm
    agree with the Mr.MAGADI
  7. H
    May 31, 2014 at 2:50 am
    Dear Mr LawyerIn a 1995 judgement, the Supreme Court ruled that "Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism ... it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the umption ... that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an atude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion ... It may well be that these words are used in a speech to promote secularism or to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos, or to criticise the policy of any political party as discriminatory or intolerant." Sarva-dharma-sambhaava. Hindutva IS secularism. Muslims also voted for these 282 BJP MPs. Muslims in India have outgrown the fallacy of mere 'representation' They want the service which your party failed to provide. Whether this government will do any better, is a matter of time and patience.
  8. A
    May 30, 2014 at 10:11 pm
    Was in a bad mood......................thanks for this propaa (or joke?). is he a leader? take the golden birth spoon away and let him get a job even in a call-center on own credit. It will show his leadership.My advise to him is dissolving HIGH COMMAND he can do a little help to India.
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