The Final Days of the 1971 version of the Congress Party

I write this article with the utmost sincerity. I write this article on the basis of months of research, multiple years of interacting with Congress party leaders and workers spreading over multiple election campaigns. I write this with no malice to one party or to pander to the supporters of another. I write this with no sense of frustration or delight.

I and Amitabh Tiwari spent months in 2015 researching the Congress party. We wrote 200 pages of a book that never got accepted for publication. We published the first chapter here. One thing we noticed during the research was the various versions of the Congress party. The current version in many ways began in 1971 with Indira Gandhi creating her own congress party and moving the party leftward from the centre due to her alliance with the Left parties.

Why do I feel these are the final days of the current version of the Congress party?

  1. It lacks an ideological binding force. I am not referring to Rahul Gandhi’s pronouncements or the policies announced by the party but how the party members operate and think on the ground. Case in point is Telangana. The party has seen 10 MLAs defect to the TRS in the last 4 months. The daily drama in Karnataka is for everyone to see. The binding force has been power and lack of access to power has usually destroyed the Congress party particularly when there has been a strong regional party in that State
  2. It lacks enough next generation leaders who have the leadership talent and courage to take on the BJP. Every time I discuss Congress party with anyone they keep throwing names of Sachin Pilot or Scindia. Scindia lost in Guna this time, so that debate ends there. The point is that the party has failed to develop a strong pipeline of next generation leaders who are ready to lead to battle the BJP. Please don’t get me wrong – there are good leaders in the Congress party, just there aren’t enough
  3. The party has too many elites running the party. While the party has lots of folks who have come grounds up, it is also filled up with too many elites. While I understand that perhaps many senior leaders did not approve of the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ campaign, NYAY was very popular with most leaders. The issue is not the desire to help the poor but to think all social classes will happily line up to give up their tax money to essentially support laziness reflects real disconnect with a social media connected India. The party elites took India for granted
  4. The absence of a scientific frame of mind. I use the word scientific loosely. In an era of consultants and strategists, the Congress party usage of science is actually quite primitive. While parties in India have reached the level of household level psychological mapping, the congress party has just about got a good social media and associated research teams going. The party’s mindset towards Marketing is at best getting an outsider to advise the party on creatives and the like. The voter centric marketing strategy is almost absent in the party culture.
  5. My final point is about Rahul Gandhi. Over the last 2 years starting from Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi has made tremendous progress with voters. In fact, just like Modi, he too moved up by some 8% points over 2014, a remarkable move. However, just like how a smooth innings in a cricket match abruptly ends with the middle wicket off, suddenly the Rahul Gandhi looks like the batsman without the middle wicket after scoring 45 runs. My personal view is that the 52 seats performance harmed Rahul Gandhi much lesser than the loss to Smriti Irani in Amethi. While he may call Wayanad his own, everyone knows the reality. How he will recover from this only time will tell but to continue as party president will be quite jarring.

It does not matter how many people implore Rahul Gandhi to continue or if he remains in power. Without dramatic reforms in the party and its culture, the party will anyway come to an end. The party has to decide now whether they want to end the current version of the party of the last 58 years now or face certain marginalisation as the BJP begins to inch upon them in States like Telangana, Kerala and even Punjab. Either way, the current version will come to and end.

Subhash Chandra

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