As the BJP celebrates the wholesome mandates it has won in UP and Uttarakhand, and the installation of its governments in four out of five states that just went to polls, a familiar opaque darkness shrouds the Congress quarters again. Some voices have pierced the silence, but they are too few. The BJP has been accused of “stealing” governments with “money power” in Goa and Manipur, where the Congress was the single largest party.
Some Congressmen have also turned the searchlight inwards, if only to point fingers at “internal sabotage”. Others, like senior leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, have sought to frame the Congress question in more impersonal ways: In these times of the Modi-BJP’s dominance, should not the erstwhile “natural party of governance” pare down its self-image and ambition from being the “inclusive party” to becoming an “inclusive alliance”? Instead of trying to take on the Modi-BJP on its own, should it not project itself as only the binding platform on which disparate opposition forces, holding up the banners of “social justice” and “secularism”, or simply “anti-BJP-ism”, could come together in Bihar-style Mahagathbandhans? These rumblings mirror the unease within the party. But the scale of the crisis the Congress faces today demands a harder questioning, by a larger number of Congress men and women.
Successive poll setbacks have pointed to the party’s missing regional leadership and to a culture where loyalty to the first family is rewarded more than talent, and party managers who negotiate deals in backrooms are far more powerful than those who do the hard labour of political mobilisation. Today, the Congress has neither a charismatic high command at the centre that can speak to all sections of the electorate, and all regions of the country, nor a responsive and autonomous leadership in the states. That is, the Congress crisis is also a crisis of leadership, and the party must acknowledge this if it wants to climb out of its decline. Here is a question, then, that more Congressmen and women need to ask themselves, aloud: Even if the Gandhi family functions as a glue within the party, isn’t it time to face the fact that the dynasty’s vote-getting capacities seem seriously eroded in a changing India? But more than that: Isn’t it time for Congress men and women to acknowledge that the party is bigger than the family, and to begin owning their share of the responsibility for the mess they find themselves in?
Try as it might, the Congress cannot evade a wider questioning, and a more fundamental restructuring. The crises it is mired in are many — they range from the organisational to the political-ideological. Perhaps the reworking of the party’s pact with the family is a good place to begin addressing them. But for that, the responsibility lies not just with the family, but also, and more, with the party.