So, there is a letter after all. It is important to make a candid disclosure: I am not a signatory and no one asked me to sign. That might be a coincidence, a reflection of what some might say is my current irrelevance to the affairs of the party, or as I hope, an assessment that I would respond with irrefutable arguments against the contents of the letter. Curiously, the letter is in the press, albeit as a scoop by one newspaper. Undoubtedly, the channels will go berserk shortly. I believe a denial or two is already in circulation and many more might follow. For the present, one can only go by the stuttering text reproduced by the papers.
One wishes that if the letter has anything new or path breaking, it may have been placed at a party forum. Be that as it may, and departing from the strict belief that it is premature, if not inadvisable to share it with the press, in order not to let the media have the last word at this stage, I have chosen to give a guarded reaction.
Is there something wrong inside the party and the people’s perception of the party? Perhaps yes, if the current political landscape is something to go by. But then what the authors of the letter think is the problem might not be the problem at all. To be fair to them though, there is never a case for completely negating the structural inadequacies and the best of political machines need periodic overhaul and capacity enhancement. On the other hand, ideology cannot be bypassed as a concern by focusing on structural matters. Ideology has the dimension of its custodians and that of its followers or consumers. The Congress cannot and must not concede that the Gandhi-Nehru socialist, secular ideology has been defeated and rejected by the people of India. It matters not how virulent the attacks get on our more recent Nehru-Gandhi legacy. Rejecting the RSS’s divisive agenda is only a part of our ideology, the creative endeavour to weave the inclusive fabric of national unity is the more challenging part of our ideological commitment. We might be charged with faltering on the functional attributes of strategy, but there cannot be any question about our ideology being diluted. Of course many of our traditional voters remain confused: The farmer about our ability to shift terms of trade to agriculture; the working class about their interests versus liberalisation; the secularist about our objective acceptance of religion; the minorities about the inability or reluctance to take on the majoritarian agenda. Correcting the misleading narrative should be our priority. We exist because of our ideology and not the other way around. We are not a vacuous organisation in search of a winning ideology. If that were the case the letter should have been pleading for a permanent closure so that full time politicians of our party could be free to seek their fortunes with ideology-less carpet baggers.
I might be allowed the audacity of asking: “Are not many, if not all authors of the letter not beneficiaries in the past, some even in the present, of the very system they find questionable?” All of us, not just the authors, have been periodically touched by our party’s beneficence and must in fairness admit it. I am not saying that such an admission disqualifies us from contributing ideas for a better future of our party. But equally, in fairness should we not add a commitment that reformation need not include any concern for accommodating us in the distribution of opportunities.
Elections at all levels in the party is a refrain one hears often in the name of inner party democracy. How does one disagree with a fundamental democratic principle? But then what does one make of the observation that the Youth Congress elections were divisive and counter-productive for party unity? Elections are good and elections are not so good. It is difficult for someone who has not ever been elected to rule on that conundrum. I would, therefore, yield to those who can claim to have won. While on that point let us not forget that consensus building has had a role in the party in recent decades. Our experience of leadership, both at the AICC levels and the PCCs has much to do with consensus. Replacing consensus, therefore, might do with building consensus to displace it rather than parrot politically correct sounding slogans. As far as the media is concerned, their preoccupation with electoral democracy in the Congress party is very moving whilst their complete disinterest in democratic procedures in other parties is equally perplexing. The jury is out on this and it will inevitably take some time for Indian democracy to get an answer. I would imagine the financing of politics in the country is of much greater importance than the consensus versus election debate.
Finally, of course the talisman of collective leadership sounds great, but leadership cannot be put into a straitjacket. You know leadership when you see it. There is no case for leadership of a kind that might suit the aspiring leaders but perhaps not to the leader. Let the authors be clear about the leadership and engage with it to enhance its impact and that of the party on the citizen-voter. Meanwhile let there be no authors and readers of the story because we are all actors of this theatre of life. We need a dialogue that unites, not soliloquies that draw asunder no matter how impressive they may sound at this stage.
(The writer is senior Congress leader and former external affairs minister)
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