The Congress seems to have acquired a new spring in its step. It turned the court appearance of its top leaders in the National Herald case into an opportunity to mount a show of strength on Saturday. The Gandhis’ seven minutes in court were preceded by a public rallying together of all top leaders and a street-level mobilisation of workers on a scale the Congress has not done — or has forgotten how to do — for a long time now. In Parliament, the party with 44 Lok Sabha MPs has managed to stall the legislative agenda of a government with a massive mandate, especially the long-pending and crucial GST bill. So, all things told, things are looking up for the Congress. But are they, really?
The law of the land, said Sonia Gandhi on Saturday, applies equally to everyone. That is, presumably, a statement of fact. Then why did her party treat the unfolding of the judicial process in the National Herald case as such an extraordinary event? Why did a simple court summons to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi rouse the Congress to an agitation and fervour not seen in recent times? Saturday’s mobilisation may well have energised the party worker who has been feeling demoralised since its rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but to others it has underlined a dispiriting message: That India’s main opposition party continues to gaze most ardently at, and speak up most strongly for, its first family — even as there is no dearth of issues that affect the people that it could take up, to challenge the government and call it to account, or to spell out an alternative roadmap. Similarly, the Congress strategy of holding up Parliament may also have limited political returns. It gives the Congress an illusion of power while doing nothing to address the incoherences, silences and abdications that led to its severe drubbing at the hands of the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the first place.
In the last year and a half that the NDA has been in power, the Congress has not looked any of the organisational or political issues that it will need to reckon with for any kind of a real revival, in the eye. It has not democratised its organisation in any significant way, nor shown any signs that it is thinking imaginatively or innovatively about the challenges in a new India, be it on secularism or federalism, or on the balance between redistribution and growth.
At best, the Congress’s preoccupation with its ruling family and its obstructionism in Parliament point to a party looking for the shortcut. In fact, they speak of a party that is mired in a past moment, unwilling or unable to recognise the enormity of the challenge of regaining the trust and confidence of a changing electorate.
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