The dissolution of the Karnataka PCC on Wednesday is the first major step the Congress has initiated after its drubbing in the general election nearly a month ago. The party has been convulsed by Rahul Gandhi’s decision to take responsibility for the defeat and quit his post. Hopefully, Karnataka marks a beginning for the Congress leadership towards reorganising itself and facing up to the challenge posed by the BJP. The Congress continues to be the largest Opposition party in the country and its conduct will have a bearing on political institutions and the democratic process itself.
While the KPCC restructuring may shed light on the Congress strategy to rebuild, the party’s decline is the result of a process that dates back to the late 1960s. Who or what could hold the Congress together is a question that became prominent in 1969, when the old guard in the party rejected the leadership of Indira Gandhi leading to a split in the organisation. Mrs Gandhi won the battle and tried to steer the Congress to the left. However, the process resulted in the party promoting, and organising itself around, her cult. Post Emergency, the Congress again debated the ideology/leadership question only to regroup again behind Mrs Gandhi. Since the 1980s, the party has turned to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty each time it faced an existential crisis. The non-dynasts who helmed the party in the 1990s — Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri — could neither rebuild the organisation nor retrieve lost ground. Sonia Gandhi, the undisputed party chief for nearly two decades since the late 1990s, was successful in keeping the party reasonably intact. However, there was no serious attempt to hold organisational polls or restate or rework party ideology. Sonia’s managerial instincts helped the party lead two coalition governments, but even she outsourced the task of providing ideological direction of the UPA to a non-party, non-elected National Advisory Council.
Now Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to explain his resignation as party chief within the framework of accountability has threatened to disrupt the leadership model the Congress has subscribed to for many years. Karnataka, a state where the Congress is in office, offers an opportunity to institutionalise inner-party democracy and introduce fresh blood in the organisation.