I must begin by saying that I am a supporter of the Congress; and as such, I care for its well being. Yet, what I see in store for the Congress is not encouraging. May be it is an unjustified apprehension but when I see the atmosphere of despair, I cannot but realize that the destiny of the Congress is either in doubt or in hopeless state. However, amidst gloom, I see some hopeful signs. It is the good work of Rahul Gandhi and dedication of Sonia Gandhi. Still to disregard the negative feedback of other well-wishers of the Congress would be unbefitting. There seems to a consensus among the supporters of the Congress that it has lost its glamour; and afflicted by the inadequacy of public support, it has no alternative but to rely on ad hock measures. They conclude however without assigning total blame to the present leadership, that the malaise of the congress is the making of its own because it has pursued ambivalent programs, conflicting values and authoritarian attitude. Supporters concur that superficial attempts have been made to bring about changes but it has remained dormant for lack of forceful implementation. Under such grim realities, one can only hope that the wisdom would befall upon the Congress High Command to accept the proposal of the CWC member, Mr. Jeffery Sharief, to “sit for an introspection to find how to restore credibility to the party and to its leadership “. Is there any other choice when the question is to be or not to be?
On being a Congress supporter.
Of present day critics, not a few can make the case against the Congress that, it is not a populist organization. Actually, it basks on populism and prides itself of being the mouthpiece of ordinary people. Considering the fundamental convictions of the Congress, is not it satisfying to be its supporter?
To those who know the Congress know that the Congress of yesteryears measured its efficiency and success in terms of the support of its ordinary members and the vitality of its local organizations. The rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated, Swatantrata Senani and common populace formed the backbone of the Congress and the Congress relied on them. The history is the witness that the rank and the file of chose their leaders and the higher leadership supported them. It was the democracy at work and no body questioned it. Both ordinary members and leaders admired each other and upheld each other in high esteem. Those were the halcyon days of the Congress; and envy to other political organizations.
While thinking of the Congress - and I have thought many times - I have found a peculiar dichotomy. I have found that the relationship between its members and leadership is so strained that it is diametrically opposed to efficient functioning of the organization. Whereas the Congress of yesteryears derived its inspiration and strength from its members and local organizations, the present leadership dictates such values from the top. Probably, they overlook the fact that any dictate without popular consensus is authoritarian in nature and has the predisposition of alienating the members and local organizations. Still, such a system is in vogue and very little efforts have been made to change it. Now the question arises: can the Congress rectify such an absurdity by adopting rational policies so that it could transform the alchemy of its ordinary members into the elixir of political influence? The only precursor is the role of prudent leadership because only it can outline a coherent path so that it could inure to the benefit of the whole organization and not just a few privileged politicians.
Model of Congress Workers
I remember Hamira, a plebeian of Dhangar community. His devotion to the party was unassailable. He did not care whether it was day or night, rain or shine; he went from village to village with a Tricolor Flag and a Gandhi Jholi to spread the name of the Congress. I knew him for decades but never found him daunted. He walked the same path of the dense forest that tigers roamed just to carry the message of the party from one community to other. Though he worked pro bono as Dhawan (messenger) of the party, he was indeed the ambassador of goodwill. Like Hamira, I knew a rich man of upper caste. Shahi Jee we called him had his own mansion, owned hundreds of acres of land and had elephants. However, when he came to the local Congress office he brought with him enough food to feed hundreds of workers for weeks. If he stayed overnight, though his hunch back troubled him, he slept on the same hay-covered floor as other congress workers did. A businessman by the name of Dhingara was the regular at the party office. He was always ready if the party needed him. He owned a transportation company spread through out North Western Bihar. If you had a Gandhi cap or claimed that you were a Congressman, there was no charge to travel by his buses. No matter who was the DCC President, Mr. Shahi and Mr. Dhingra were the advisors along with few professors and attorneys. Common folks like Bansi Master, Bhoj Kaji, Baldeo Patwari and Bhandhu Master came there too. All of them had one thing in common. They represented their communities and loved the Congress. Probably Mahatma relied on such people to nurture and support the Congress and to get us independence. So did Pt. Nehru and Mrs. Indira Gandhi. They believed in the power of the people and appreciated the rectitude of their workers. What happened to the rank and file of the Congress is another story but it is true that if you loose your lifeline you loose your existence. Conceivably, the present Congress is suffering from that syndrome.
Hamira was the inhabitant of an area called Tharuhat. There were certain villages in Tharuhat that had a sizable presence of Dhangar community. Hamira’s village bordered the forest reserve and nearby, lied plenty of uninhabited land. The powerful and the rich were grabbing the land sidestepping the poor and the needy. I suggested to Hamira to take the help of my father to get the allotment of a few acres of that land for his posterity. He listened to me as if he were dumbfounded but replied to me succinctly. Hamira’s reply still resonates in my mind. It is the voice of an unselfish person, a voice that could be the standard for all future political workers. What he meant was he did not want the land because his community would think that he got the land surreptitiously and though unjust maneuvering and under handed dealing. That would bring bad name to him and to his party. I tried to explain to him that he had the right to own the land as a plebeian but he did not agree with me. On the contrary, he cited an example of my father. He said there was a time when Baba, as he called my father, was leading an agitation against the biggest landlord of the area on behalf of the Tharu community. The conflict is well known. It was the Raja vs. the Plebeians. It involved around five hundred acres of land that Raja claimed his. Actually, the Raja claimed that most of the land cultivated and occupied by the inhabitants of the Tharu community of the village belonged to him. He went to lower court and won. He went to high court and won. Though the Raja won in courts, force of the people crushed his stamina. He could not get the possession of the land. It was one of the biggest post independence agrarian conflicts of the area. It became so intense that the possibility of violence had besieged the ambiance. On one side were the goons of the Raja and on the other the masses of entire Tharu and Dhangar community led by my father. At some point, the Raja thought that he could bribe my father to stop him from leading the agitation. He tried his best to tempt him by offering him approximately thirty acres of the land to back away. What Raja did not know contained in the reply he got from my father. It said all land to the people or nothing. The returning messenger also carried another reminder that the masses were ready to die for their land and he was with them to go first. Finally, the conflict settled in favor of the villagers. Hamira said, if Raja could not buy the integrity of your father with that much land, I would not sacrifice my integrity either for a few acres of land. This was the Hamira, the follower Mr. Mohan Das Gandhi and a real disciple of my father. Though he passed away penniless, no body has yet surpassed him as social worker and community leader.
The essence of Hamira’s story is that the Congress enjoyed its predominance because of the honesty and solidarity of its rank and file. When it began to neglect them, they felt abandoned and strayed away. Workers like Hamira were not only proud to call themselves the Congressmen they were the Congress. They had the enthusiasm and sincerity of Good Samaritans and for them the Congress was not only a political organization of good deeds, public service and noble leadership; it was the way of life. Unlike the flimflams and the back stabbers who have inundated the present Congress, they had the moral obligation and notion of duty to be the Congressmen and, without them, the Congress was like a windmill without wind. May I say that any party fortunate enough to have the men of such fortitude would only excel not go down?
From Mohan Das Gandhi and Pt. Nehru to Indira Gandhi, the Congress was the beneficiary of the benevolence of the people like Hamira. They were responsive leaders that matched the expectations and wishes of the rank and file. The party was unified up to the demise of Pt. Nehru despite the existence of skeptics. If skeptics had any ax to grind, they kept it to themselves. Either the overwhelming personality of Pt. Nehru dwarfed them or out of deference to him, they made no bones about it. Maybe it would have been disrespectful to the creator of India to question him. Passing of Pt. Nehru and emergence of Mr. Shashtri as the Prime Minister nonetheless brought the warring factions at collusion course. Daggers were drawn, and the target was Indira Gandhi. The open revolt against the inclusion of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the Shashtri’s Cabinet was the turning point. Yet, the credit must go to Mr. Shashtri that he managed to include her in his cabinet without explicitly polarizing the party. His untimely demise however marked the end of the artificial harmony of the Congress.
I knew Mrs. Indira Gandhi. She was as smart a politician as determined to be the Prime Minister. The same people that opposed her inclusion in the Shashtri’s cabinet also opposed her to be the Prime Minster. She handled them meticulously and uprooted them from the Congress. Upon becoming the Prime Minister, “Her instinct of survival enabled her to chart a new course through the intrigues and attempts at domination” Luckily, fractious leaders opposed to her parted ways. They either chose to form different groups or joined opposition. Now there was no more Kamraj, no more Morarjee and no more Patil. They became persona non grata and slowly disappeared in the abyss of political quagmire. The division of the party was complete on ideological grounds. It was conservatives vs. progressives and conservatives lost. The victory of progressive forces did not weaken the party but it shut out a sizable number of party supporters. Still, Indira Gandhi excelled as the leader of progressive forces and ruled the country unimpeded. Her popularity at peak and opposition in shamble, she became politically invincible for time being. Some of her popular steps brought her public acclaim and people called her Mother India.
As it happens, the children of politicians often choose politics to get ahead in life. So did Sanjay Gandhi. Sanjay took over the role of the progenitor of the Indira Congress and, in a short time, proved that he was a charismatic leader. His hold on the youth of India and his tireless efforts to bring about changes became the hallmark of his leadership. He is still remembered as Alas, he were alive!
We all know the rest of the story of the Congress. Emergency was imposed, the Congress lost, Morarjee became the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi went to jail, stripped of her membership of the parliament. Then Indira Gandhi came back to power again and Sanjay passed away. The operation blue star took place with good intension to control the terrorists but it backfired. Indira Gandhi was assassinated and Rajiv Gandhi ascended to power. What was lost in all the history was the rapid growth of the Jan Sangh?
The Jan Sangha was an organization without much impact on Indian polity but it had the backing of a dedicated cadre. Hinduism and preservation of Indian culture was its motto but I doubt seriously if it ever hoped to capture power through the slogans of Hindi, Hindu and Hindustan. If capturing power as an idea ever got boost, it was due to the grand design of stalwarts like Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani. The imposition of emergency helped them as well as the bifurcation of the Congress. Tactical moves included changing the name from Jana Sangh to Bhartiya Jana Sangha before it made the splash on the National scene. As respected and foresighted as Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani were, they had no hesitation making alliances with other political parties to make the BJS a living force. The growth of the BJS notwithstanding its poor showing in the general election was phenomenal. Now it was ready to challenge the hegemony of the Congress. Again, it changed its name to broaden its appeal from Bhartiya Jana Sangha to Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). As soon as it embarked on espousing popular causes that mattered to people, there was a sudden surge in public acceptance. Enhanced eminence no doubt brought the BJP to the point that it called itself a National Organization. However, for elites, it remained a communal organization. Let us face it the slogans of the BJP were reminiscences of the Congress of the pre independence era that enchanted the masses. Now, it considers itself a Nationalistic Party and thrives on it. To be candid, whether the opposition parties like it or not, many people perceive it as such and concur with it. It appears that what Congress achieved in hundred years, the BJP has achieved in a short time. Now it dominates the political scene as the main opposition and threatens the existence of the Congress.
Whatever its roots, no body can deny that the BJP is a national organization and its presence is as ubiquitous as that of the Congress. It would be delusional as well as suicidal to underestimate the magnitude of its influence because the BJP truly commands a wide support and its supporters are unflinching. Motivated and fired up, they would give their hearts to make the BJP victorious. Can we say the same thing about the Congress now?
When we look at the Congress, we find the same existed when the Congress was in its heydays but its status has changed over time. It is considered as an elephantine organization with abundance of leaders, abundance of ideas and abundance of everything. It has fifty people of the rank of secretaries in its central organization whose job is to look after interest groups. It has Schedule Caste Cell, Schedule Tribe Cell, Backward Caste cell, Minorities Cell and farmers Cell. Ask the cell leaders if they have ever gone to serve their respective constituencies, probably the answer would be in affirmative. However, where is the proof? The defeat of the Congress in State after State is the proof of the pudding. Perhaps their strategy was as dull-witted as it was harum-scarum. In essence, the performance of Cell leaders is similar to the performance of unskilled politicians. They shirk responsibilities and blame the outcome on some unknown events. Failure to recognize disenchantment and disaffection is dereliction of duty and so is the inability to establish rapport with the people. Does Congress need ineffective hanger-on leaders?
Mao had perfect solution for such politicians. He directed them to go to the masses to learn what problems confronted the masses and what remedies were available to them. When they came back, they were as disciplined as dedicated. So that the Congress is not the fusion of demoralized and uninterested men and women, it has the responsibility to train the trainable and renounce the rest. It is imperative that the visionaries get the rope, not the obdurate and sycophant politicians. .
Since the party relies on the razzle-dazzle of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to win the hearts and minds of the people, it is incumbent upon them to dispel the notion that they possess no cabalistic power to turn the fate of the Congress. In the same sequence, they must emphasize that the Congress is in need of the revolutionary approach to make it a vibrant and successful organization and such a revolution cannot be successful without the input of rank and file and local organizations. It would also require the ingenuity and expertise of all its members, trusted advisors and earnest leaders if the Congress were to avoid cataclysmic failure. Since Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are the only force upon whom the party depends for guidance, do they have choice but to make changes?
Though victory of the BJP at the State level does not guarantee the victory at the National level, the Congress cannot just characterize such a victory of the BJP as fluke and its defeat in State after State as insignificant and irrelevant occurrence. The challenge is great for the Congress but the greater is the risk of its survival. There is only one conclusion that the Congress has failed to capitalize on its strength and resources. I would further state that the present predicament of the Congress is the consequence of its complacency, inaptness and misjudgment.
In democracy, however, all political parties wish to control the destiny of the country but the one that wins the hearts and the minds of the people succeed. Let us assume that the BJP is that organization. What can the Congress do to defeat the BJP?
Calling it, a communal party has not worked. So has leveling of the allegations against it for being a divisive force. If anything, the more charges have been leveled against the BJP, the stronger it has become. Either the charges were frivolous or the masses do not believe them. Even though I am a partisan, I would not hesitate to acknowledge that the BJP is a fierce opponent, which has the propensity to destabilize the Congress
Since I am prejudiced in favor of the Congress, it would be prejudicial to call the BJP a divisive force. In democracy, we do not thrash opposition, we respectfully point out its shortcomings. For example, if we allege that the BJP is a communal Party, is there any proof to substantiate the allegation? Of course, we can justify the allegation by innuendoes and rhetoric but that is not proof. The BJP claims that it is mere fiction, and hypothesis contrived to malign the party. It claims that it has successfully convinced a sizable number of people that its attempt to preserve Ram Temple and Ram Sethu were for cultural and religious preservation; and not guided by any communal design. It has also debunked the Godara incident by winning the election there. The fact is the BJP has been able to portray itself as the preserver of Indian culture and civilization rather than destroyer. Such a claim is not a sectarian idea; every political party should make such a claim unless they are against the preservation of Indian culture and religions. Only the Communist Party comes to my mind that would stand against such an idea because they are by faith anti-religion and anti-civilization. They do not believe in God and they believe in the destruction of old order to start a new. If communists could be good for India who owe their allegiance to foreign masters, the BJP would fair better for India because it derives its inspiration from India. I do not mean that the BJP is as wholesome as it depicts itself but so far, it has successfully carved out a niche for itself in Indian polity and has plan to remain a challenge to the Congress.
The Congress needs Change
Under these circumstances, can the Congress flourish without change and is it possible for the Congress to regain its glory notwithstanding its fractured image, tarnished name and confused ideologies? I would say comparing the BJP with the Congress is not my purpose right now. My purpose is to suggest some remedies to rejuvenate the Congress. Instead of talking about how to defeat the BJP, I would like to talk about the process by which the Congress could remain a mighty force; and for that, it will have to make some changes, structural as well as administrative. In my view, the Congress is doomed to failure without change. .
Change defined and change suggested.
Change is a revolutionary process. To maintain status quo is not change, neither doing some make over. Change could be sweeping or incremental but change is complete and pervasive metamorphosis. Without change, survival is more or less boring and questionable. Change does not take place automatically. There are movers and shakers behind all changes. Since change affects everybody in the organization, the movers and shakers have the responsibility to adapt strategy, gauge reaction; and make sure that changes do not produce unintended consequences. As per my above assumptions, I would suggest a few changes for the survival of the Congress.
1. Change the Party structure
The change in party structure has no meaning unless there is a hope of something different. It does not mean that the Party has to revert to old ways of doing things like Mahatma did and Nehru did or it has to change its philosophy. Change however entails technique of reengineering the organization so that it could comport with changing needs and lasting values. There are three components of the Congress, Rank and file, local organizations and leadership. My suggestions will affect all three levels of the organization.
A. Allow rank and file members to make local decisions.
In a democratic style of functioning, the political organizations derive their strength from the regular members who make up what we call the grassroots organization. They are the backbone of the organization. It would be a derision to overlook the voices that support it. Surprisingly, the regular members of the organization like that of the Congress make no greater demand than to have the opportunity to express their opinion. They believe that there is an organizational set up in place from Block level to Center, which remains unutilized. A large number also believe that they have no say in the party affairs. Either the party has done away with grassroots participation or it is promoting hierarchical supremacy. They cite examples that local leaders have no incentive to take the rank and file in confidence since they are chosen without election. Such leaders neither promote membership nor care for members because they are not accountable to the rank and file. Such a practice depresses the morale of the members and creates dissatisfaction and apathy; and apathy and dissatisfaction are the biggest reason for dwindling membership of the Congress.
Freedom to elect party leaders should be the first step to restore the confidence of the members. It will make them psychologically satisfied and morally responsible; and satisfied and responsible members serve the party well.
B. Rights of party workers and abrogation of that right is contradictory value.
I do not know if the Congress has revised its charter or not but in the beginning, elections were held from Thana level to State and members had their say. Election was held even for the President of the AICC, and elected delegates participated in it. From beginning to end, the rank and file participated in the selection process of its leaders directly or through their elected delegates. It was democracy at work and the result was a flourishing and united Congress. The organization elected capable leaders and prospered. On the other hand, the elected leaders worked in the best interest of the organization and the Congress benefited from such a value.
In the beginning and for a long time thereafter, the Congress depended on the rank and file for strength and survival. Local members chose their own leaders from various contenders. Giving members right to choose created the atmosphere of consistency and discipline. The process rejuvenated old members and gave opportunity to all contenders to enroll new members. Overall, the membership grew and the base widened. The rivalry among the contenders remained limited to the election time when losers and winners vowed to fight together until next time. As far as ordinary members were concerned, they were the members of the Congress Party no matter who were elected. They were loyal to the party and worked hard to elect legislative and parliamentary candidates. Having the large number of party workers, the party was assured of its success year after year.
Image is a figure of speech that denotes appearance, impression or perception. It is a form of metaphor used to make distinction, good or bad, positive or negative. For example, if your image is bad the opposite cannot be true that it is good and vice versa. Therefore, in politics as well as in life image plays a crucial role. Having positive image is not only essential for the survival of the entity; it is needed to persuade the masses to win their support.
Critics say that the Congress is a monolithic organization that maintains itself in more or less unchanged form. Even Pt. Nehru was concerned. The Congress has seen good days and bad but its modus operandi has not changed at all. It is alleged that the organization is run like a kingdom, which is inundated with thoughtless leaders. They are mere fixtures to maintain the status quo and to keep the enemy of Kingdom at bay. Consequently, it has no program of developing new leaders and if it does, it gives preference to the sons and daughters of the mighty and the rich. All of them personify a class of their own. They call themselves elites of the party without grassroots experience. They work like the union of unskilled leaders but behave like atom of selfish interest. They are adept in shunning discussions and taking dim view of accurate and meaningful feedback of the rank and file. We can call them the men of turbulent passions, an amalgamation of sycophants and egotistical office seekers. They stand erect to salute their superior leaders but lack the courage to bow before the masses.
Outside of the Congress organization, the biggest allegation is its alliance with other political parties. Though it is the impediment of a coalition government, it gives the impression that to get power or to stay in power, Congress would do anything including aligning with the party of corrupt politicians. Such a perception cannot reflect but the image of ignominies.
The conclusion is that, to regain its old glory and positive image, the Congress has to eliminate the cogency of obduracy, sycophancy and corruptibility.
3. Change of leadership style.
It appears that the Congress has surrendered its quantifiable goodness to the devils of disaster. The leadership of the party is made up of yes men and office seekers. They sit in Delhi and insulate themselves from the people. They are like harem in Burkas. They are in the news only as spokesperson, either defending their actions or condemning the actions of their opponents. However, how many people know who they are. Very few people know that they are the Dinosaurs of the Congress party whose utility is contrived and usefulness exaggerated. To call them leaders would be to misplace characterization. The need of the Congress is to prepare a pool of good leaders from block level to AICC to make the Congress what once it was.
I have looked at the roaster of the Congress office bearers. It is a roaster of hundreds of people. Who are the people who are sitting in Delhi pretending to be the leaders? Do they do anything? Do they organize any mass meeting? Do they contact local leaders to ask them if the party has problem? Have they gone to the people to propagate the philosophy of the Congress? Chances are they have not. If they are living off the dying glory of the Congress in the hope that some day they would be ministers or high-ranking officials, perhaps they need to think again or risk being replaced with those who would care for the party first before expecting self-aggrandizement. In contrast, if they cannot do what is needed to promote the Congress why to keep them? There are many like them waiting in the wings to mind the business of the party. Would not it be appropriate to send them back to the people for reeducation? They would at least acquaint themselves with the problems of the masses for future course of actions instead of shooting in dark. In my opinion, the problem is not that they are not intelligent; the problem is that they have not risen from the bottom of the party hierarchy. Leadership of the people cannot be acquired as gift it must be earned on the grassroots level. If Rahul can go to the masses what is wrong with other party leaders? If they do not have the capacity to face the masses, they do not deserve the luxury of the Congress office.
The proper role of leaders is to be open to the people. It does not mean that they have to meet with everybody and entertain him or her. However, if the masses perceive the leaders to be the people’s person, they would storm to see them. What impression doe the leaders leave depends on their respective ability. In this regard, verbal interaction is as important as personal interaction. The command of the language as well as individual attractiveness helps penetrate the sensibility of the masses but the success of leader depends finally on being the agent of change. Values, motives and goals matter but matters more is individual charisma. Indira Gandhi knew that change was a risk very few politicians advocated but she took the chance at the risk of being called a dictator. Rajiv Gandhi believed in change and the technological advancement of India is the monument to his memory. Thereafter, the Congress became a rudderless ship and its leaders, self-centered. Such a phenomenon gave rise to docile leadership and profligate politicians. Relics of them still exist but emergence of Sonia Gandhi as the leader saved the party from the brink of disaster. She gave hopes but the hopes remain illusion. As good as, she is as the Chairperson of the UPA, wish she gave more time to the Congress as she did when she became its President. She could have taken the Congress to a new height. For whatever reasons, she has failed to communicate the goodness she possesses. That is where Rahul comes. His foes and friends alike praise him for his penchant for public service and veneration for the masses. However, can he transmit his ideas to the people at large? If he does, he would prove the critics of the Congress wrong that they were too much in hurry to exaggerate its demise.
In essence, the style of political leadership is guided by empirical, impressionistic and pragmatic approaches. If you do not believe in it, do not try to be a leader. It is an awesome responsibility, the depth of which is immeasurable.