Opportunism is not merely justified but even eulogised in most commentaries on the rebellion in the Congress in Rajasthan. Read together with similar commentaries on the defection of Jyotiryaditya Scindia from the Congress to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh in March, what we can see is an enthusiasm to attribute virtues to fickle ideological commitment and even justify it. The whitewashing and legitimising of BJP’s corrupt methods to unsettle elected governments and the greed of some people as a political churn cannot and should not go unchallenged.
The exit or rebellion of a few leaders from the party does not in any way mark a rupture between youngsters and the Congress party. The Congress party has hundreds of young leaders from different diverse backgrounds, both humble and privileged. A Scindia or a Pilot may have become the only names that the media promotes as young leaders but there are hundreds of others in the Congress party. They may be a Manickam Tagore, a school teacher’s son or Jothimani, whose father was a farmer and died in her childhood, both whom are now Lok Sabha MPs from Tamil Nadu; Ramya Haridas, the young Dalit MP from Kerala, whose father is a daily wage labourer; Phoolo Devi Netam in Chattisgarh, a RS MP who still sows paddy in her field; Badal Patrlekh, a farmer’s son, who is a minister in the Jharkhand government, Pradeep Majhi, a former MP, who hails from a backward tribal district in Odisha, Ajay Lallu from Uttar Pradesh, who was a construction worker in Ghaziabad, and is now MLA and the PCC President in UP; Anil Chaudhary, son of a farmer, and a former national level taekwondo player in Delhi, former MLA and now Delhi PCC President Amrinder Singh Raja Warring, who was orphaned at an early age, now an MLA in Punjab or Paresh Dhanani, now leader of the opposition in Gujarat, whose father worked as a clerk in a small cooperative bank. These are just a handful of such names, in their 30’s and 40’s, all rising from the Youth Congress and ordinary backgrounds. There are many such young leaders who are capable of and willing to take on greater responsibilities in the party. These young leaders are all in their current positions because of the proactive policies adopted by Rahul Gandhi to promote young leaders from diverse backgrounds. Those who accuse him of not being able to nurture young talents do not know the tremendous effort he has put in. And they cannot count more than two people when it comes to young leaders in the Congress.
The Congress has historically been an organisation where 30-year-olds have worked alongside those who have served the organisation for 30 years or more. And, both have learnt from each other. Ashok Gehlot, Digvijaya Singh, Rajesh Pilot and Madhav Rao Scindia cut their teeth in organisational and electoral politics with Rajiv Gandhi along with other senior leaders of the time. It is a constant process of learning and evolving — “young” and “old” are not mutually exclusive watertight categories. And even now, under the guidance of these experienced leaders, along with lakhs of grassroots workers, the Congress will bounce back.
Over the 135-year old history of the Congress, it has smoothly transitioned from one generation to the next, adopting young blood and fresh ideas but without jettisoning the old wisdom and cherished heritage. That indeed is one of the strongest traits of the Congress party — to nourish the new without jettisoning the roots. And in any case, what is this ageism that seems to have gripped the self-proclaimed progressive sections of our society? P V Narasimha Rao was 70 and Manmohan Singh was 59 in 1991, when they led the troubled country through multiple crises with vision and precision. Fresh ideas and boundless energy became the hallmarks of India during this period. To imagine a phantom of the old guard pulling down the Congress is not something that those in the party feel — some, and only some are making that an excuse to search for greener pastures or hide their own opportunism.
Jawaharlal Nehru once said that the Congress is the umbrella of the masses. It is this umbrella that has always allowed the Congress to have a vibrant internal democracy with varied opinions. That has been the biggest strength of the Congress, and arguably, in today’s climate, its biggest weakness (at least in perception) as well. As a result, any departure from the Congress is portrayed as an exodus from a sinking ship, ignoring the millions who are holding up the ideology and keeping the ark afloat.
The Congress stands on the hard work and commitment of lakhs of ordinary, committed workers and leaders, who are only more determined to rescue the party from this crisis. When it bounces back, the same leaders who are now chasing more power and privileges may return to the party, and as is a trait of the Congress party, they may be welcomed back without any grudge.
(The writer is National Secretary, Indian National Congress, incharge of Chattisgarh)
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