The protracted drama over Rahul Gandhi’s exit as Congress president ended last week after he posted his resignation letter on social media. In the four-page letter, he took responsibility for the poll debacle and, possibly in a signal to party seniors, pointed out that “accountability is critical for the future growth” of the Congress. He also said it would be improper for him to select his own successor. It is to Rahul Gandhi’s credit that he has refused to bow to pressure from the party to either stay on as president or to dictate or guide the succession plan.
The Congress needs to see this crisis as an opportunity to make a break with its over-dependence on the Gandhi family and the culture of nominations to leadership positions. Party faithful claim that the Gandhi family is the glue that holds the Congress together. This may well be the case. But it is also true that the dependence has left the party comatose — it has destroyed internal democracy and undermined the principle of merit within the party. Regional satraps, taking a cue from the top leadership, have promoted their kin and transformed the Congress into a coalition of political dynasties. This has stultified the party at the grass roots and alienated it from the people. Rahul Gandhi’s resignation is a moment for the Congress to pause — and to draw pointers for the way ahead from its own rich history. The Congress once used to conduct membership drives and hold elections for party posts. Many party stalwarts of the past rose from the grass roots to leadership roles by winning organisational elections. The party’s decline coincides with the rise of the nomination-culture.
The Congress must revive elections to the Pradesh Congress Committees, All India Congress Committee and Congress Working Committee. This is how the party functioned under leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru. Now, reports suggest that top leaders, with the exception of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, would prefer to have one among them nominated to the president’s post — Singh has publicly said that a young leader must helm the party. Whether the party privileges the old or chooses the young, it needs to quickly set its house in order if it does not want to risk an implosion. Taking advantage of the leadership vacuum, many Congress legislators are exploring opportunities elsewhere. This may even cost the party the government in Karnataka, the only one it has in South India.