The Congress party’s default position in the face of any crisis is to firewall criticism by rallying round its first family and iterating, as if by rote, its loyalty to the Gandhis. The immediate organisational response to the electoral rout has played to the script, as the party president and vice president’s offers to resign became the occasion for a statement about their indispensability.
That offer of resignation was always going to be rejected, not just for sycophancy’s sake, but also because as things are in the Congress, they will necessarily have to be the galvanising agents in the party organisation. What is astounding, however, are the voices emerging around the family to silence criticism about the state of party affairs. This is a familiar sight to Congress watchers — it is the too-clever-by-half strategy of hangers-ons to evade accountability by projecting critiques aimed at them as challenges to the Gandhis. So long as they succeed, the Congress cannot recover its equilibrium to plan for a better day.
As reported in this newspaper, Rahul Gandhi’s inner circle has chosen to rubbish even the rather gentle suggestion that it cannot be business as usual in the upper echelons of the party, that too from leaders who can hardly be termed rebellious — Priya Dutt, Milind Deora and Satyavrat Chaturvedi. Deora had said advisors in New Delhi did not have their “ears to the ground”, while Dutt dwelt on their “disconnect” with the people. Taking on board these concerns is vital to what must be the first task before the Congress: to mobilise itself sufficiently to count as a voice of opposition in Parliament. Down to just 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha, the Congress would be failing its historical and democratic obligations if its top leaders do not open up more on how to play a watchful and constructive opposition.
Such a reconstruction agenda, anchored to keeping itself relevant in Parliament, would ultimately assist in the party’s desire to revive its state units. Without proper accountability, which must necessarily be from the top, the current exercise in reconstituting district-level committees will remain inadequate. As long as habitual Rajya Sabhaists and anonymous backroom advisors hold sway — most damagingly, in trying to keep themselves relevant by excluding those in the electoral fray — the conditions that brought the Congress to this low will continue. The consequences will be the Congress’s to bear, but they will also impact the treasury-opposition balance so important for a parliamentary democracy.