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Saturday, December 05, 2020

Ambition isn’t a bad word. Lack of hunger has reduced Congress to its present position

There are many who would like to see the Congress succeed but for this we need a full time president and a complete overhaul. Party must listen to voices outside Delhi

Written by Pradyot Manikya Bikram Debbarma | Updated: July 16, 2020 9:27:43 am
Congress president Sonia Gandhi with her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi and Robert Vadra in 2017. (Express Photo: Renuka Puri)

It has been over a year since the president of the Congress party resigned after the electoral debacle, saying he felt let down by those who did not stand by him. It is well known that Rahul Gandhi also wrote an open letter where he stated that senior leaders, and possibly Congress chief ministers, were more interested in getting their children nominations for the Lok Sabha and this was one of the reasons why he felt the Congress managed to get just 1 out of 54 seats in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, with Kamal Nath’s son being the sole winner from these two states.

Today, seniors in the same party are accusing certain “Young Turks” of being “ambitious”. I shudder to think what a party would be if there was no ambition within its leaders to fight it out. It is this lack of hunger that has reduced the Congress to its present position. The party has one of the oldest decision-making bodies, barring perhaps the communists, the Congress Working Committee, but a culture of nomination has ruined this apex body of the organisation. Most of these leaders are largely Delhi-based with little or no relevance in their own regions and yet they continue to enjoy the power to decide the future course of action within the party. The only thing the CWC has ensured is status quo so that they remain relevant to the power mongers within the set-up.

It is indeed sad that when a senior leader like Mani Shankar Aiyar speaks of democracy within the party (‘See you later, alligator’, IE, July 15), he needs to be reminded that the same party suspended him before the Gujarat election without a show cause notice and a chance for him to reply. The leader speaks of ideology, but forgets we are in power in Maharashtra with a party that proudly claimed to be the first to bring down the Babri Masjid. It is sheer hypocrisy when just before elections we rope in leaders who are criminal and corrupt because they can finance the party.

I agree that electability is necessary. But at what cost? It is understood that many decisions are difficult but then in this day and age we cannot hold the moral high ground when everything is in the public domain. The debate has never been about old versus new but about relevance — didn’t Indira Gandhi break her father’s party to form the Congress (Indira)? Didn’t Mani Shankar Aiyar, like so many, also part ways with the Congress during the ’90s and at one time joined hands with Mamata Banerjee? Memories may fade but when someone starts preaching to others they should also reflect on their own actions.

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I was the Congress president in Tripura and, perhaps because the Northeast is less written about, let me remind everyone that the highest vote jump in the entire country for the Congress was in our state during the Lok Sabha election. But everything changed after Rahul Gandhi resigned abruptly, the same general secretaries who were amenable to new ideas suddenly felt otherwise. My state of Tripura has the distinction of having seen the AICC General Secretary visit for about eight hours combined in the last six years and yet we have always been told to take all decisions after getting it vetted by them. Are leaders like CP Joshi and Luizinho Faleiro even interested in the

Northeast because if they were we would not have lost state after state and created a Congress Mukt Northeast.
My opposition to the CAA was the turning point when the general secretary stated that we had to consider the vote bank in the region. Imagine the betrayal to the people of my state and region when we take one line in Assam and Meghalaya and another in Tripura. I resigned but never moved to the BJP, because, fundamentally, I believe that national parties have stopped bothering about our region, and especially its indigenous population.

The resignation was not because there were greener pastures but because I felt that if I did not stand the ground for our people then I would never be forgiven for this betrayal of trust. I took the right decision and today I can say that we will be the principal opposition to the BJP in our state.

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This country needs an Opposition which has the hunger and stamina to fight it out with one of the most aggressive political parties to rule this nation. My simple question is: Can it be done by those who are sitting at the helm of affairs? There have been statements that we should fight it out within the organisation and not quit, but my fundamental point is that a ship without a permanent captain is directionless and therein lies the problem. Where is the redressal mechanism within the organisation?

There are many who would like to see the Congress succeed but for this we need a full time president and a complete overhaul. Sadly, for those who question the young leaders leaving the party, an overhaul stops at introspection (a term we have all grown tired of). People will come and go, whether it is Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Ajay Kumar, Pradyot, Himanta Biswa Sarma or Jagan Reddy. But it is important to learn from every voice of dissent.

A debate within the party should not be seen as a duel and it should be across the board. Many leave the party not for lure of power and money but because they feel that they are humiliated, as it was in my case.

If the Congress has to reclaim its glory days it must decentralise and hear voices from across the country. The party which used to hold sway across the country has to be less Delhi centric. Finally, the party must ask its senior leaders why the past seems far prettier than the future. We could ask Mani Shankar Aiyar to introspect.

This article first appeared in the print edition on July 16, 2020 under the title ‘Once, I was in the Congress’. The writer is chairman, The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance

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