The controversy brewing in the Kerala unit of the Congress over Rajya Sabha nominations from the state has turned the spotlight on the party’s structural deficiencies. Six relatively young Congress MLAs from the state last week objected to the party renominating P J Kurien, 77, to the Rajya Sabha for a fourth term. Kurien, who was elected to the Lok Sabha six times before entering the Rajya Sabha, must step aside and allow younger leaders to enter Parliament, they argue. These MLAs also allege that a handful of seniors have been cornering Rajya Sabha nominations in recent years.
There is truth in their claim. Though the Congress in Kerala has availed of 20 Rajya Sabha terms since 1983, the nominations went to just seven leaders — five of these MPs got three or more terms. In contrast the CPM got 14 persons elected for the 18 terms that came its way. The criticism is significant since it has come up against the background of the massive defeat the Congress suffered in a bypoll in a bastion last week and the impending reshuffle in the leadership of the state unit. The seniors, of course, have ridiculed the suggestion that the Congress should have a “margadarshak mandal” of its own to retire old leaders and make way for youth to occupy leadership positions: Vayalar Ravi, 81, whose fourth RS term ends in 2021, has accused the young leaders of being ambitious for office. One reason for the Congress’s country-wide decline has been its over-reliance on seniors, many of whom are reluctant to do the grind at the grassroots. The Constitution envisages the Rajya Sabha as the House of Elders, but the Congress, in recent decades, has turned it into a pasture for leaders unwilling to fight elections or incapable of winning them. It is no coincidence that these leaders occupy crucial positions in the organisation and stall any serious reflection on the party’s decline.
The Congress, incidentally, has experienced youth-led rebellions in the past that facilitated generational change in its leadership and revitalised the organisation. Indira Gandhi faced a challenge from the old guard in the 1960s and emerged a stronger leader with the support of young leaders. Rajiv Gandhi famously spoke about the power brokers who fed off the party. Rahul Gandhi’s challenge as party president is to find the balance and harmony between youth and experience while building his team. He could begin with Kerala.