You must be wondering why I am so upset with the Congress, a party I have fought for passionately, relentlessly during its most difficult years. There is a reason. I accidentally met a distinguished woman late last year who seemed distressed at the blatant segregationist, discordant politics prevalent in our country. While empathising with her despondency, I put the entire blame on BJP and PM Narendra Modi. Her reply had unalloyed raging frustration: “BJP is doing what it wants to do, Mr Jha. But are you? Congress is an equal co-conspirator in the destruction of the Idea of India.”
When I met you the first time, I thought you would be the cool dude of Indian politics. A real game-changer. There were moments you were. When you introduced US-style primaries in Bengaluru in 2014 for Lok Sabha candidate selection, many of us welcomed your audacious transformational initiative. Sadly, it was junked after a fleeting trial. It is this inability to steadfastly sustain your big ideas that has allowed your innumerable critics to target you. It is not too late, however, to introduce organisational reforms. For the Congress president elections due early 2021, why can’t Congress have a Rahul Gandhi vs Shashi Tharoor vs Sachin Pilot vs Whoever in several publicised TV debates on their vision not just for the Congress, but for India? Trust me, this is not some urban armchair utopianism. It will capture public imagination and force a transparent mechanism into AICC processes. At one stroke, you can obliterate the torturous baggage of your dynasty hangover. The Congress needs a spectacular metamorphosis. The time for superficial incrementalism is long over. Right now the Congress is like a fuddy-duddy organisation awaiting pension cheques.
You will agree that the Congress has performed abysmally, barring sporadic exceptions. We govern in just four states and are a sub-junior partner in two coalition governments. If you were an ordinary Congress worker, who would you hold responsible for this oceanic mess? “The buck stops here”, message stood on US President Harry Truman’s desk. No leader is an exception to that aphorism. Your decision to resign taking moral responsibility for the 2019 Lok Sabha defeat was applauded by all. If you had just ensured a seamless transition to a full-time successor, our current predicament would have never happened. Recent electoral reverses establish that this rudderless drift has damaged the Congress.
I remember at an All India Professionals Congress event in Delhi, you talked extensively on the “pakad” factor that you believe is the prerequisite for an election ticket. Pakad in layman’s language would mean local popularity and strong grassroots hold. Everyone concurred with that compelling argument. But Congress has unfortunately redefined pakad to mean access to huge financial resources and massive muscle-power. As a result, perhaps many deserving Congress candidates are excluded. That is why Congress state legislators are easily seduced by BJP’s Operation Lotus. The party of Nehru and Gandhi now is flooded with transactional deal-makers. Ideological commitment? What is that?
Power is poison, you once said quoting Henry Brooks Adams. But if Congress is to protect, propagate its inclusive ideology, it will have to win power. We need to recapture public trust. Worse, we seem happily reconciled to our dissipating footprint in Indian politics. We owe it to India to be the bodyguard of India’s intrinsic liberal democratic society. But reclaiming India is a gigantic task. It will help to change our own claustrophobic work culture too. Asking tough questions of the senior leadership, for instance, is considered blasphemous. Feroze Gandhi, your grandfather, took on your great grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in Parliament on corruption allegations against the finance minister. The latter was forced to resign. That is the Congress I signed up for. In my forthcoming book The Great Unravelling: India After 2014, I have raised questions on our Alice in Wonderland approach. My publishers are convinced that I will be expelled.
You might wish to take a leaf from Sachin Tendulkar’s book. He gave up the thorny crown of leadership of the Men in Blue but remained the team’s sheet-anchor and biggest draw throughout his career. Under a new skipper Sourav Ganguly, Indian cricket blossomed. Ultimately, Sachin fulfilled his cherished dream of winning a World Cup under M S Dhoni, eight years his junior. Change is like a chocolate cake, it is a good thing.
Dynasty has now become unfashionable; a young, aspirational India treats entitled successors as arrivistes. There is a visible pushback to those who have a free pass. A former boss once told me that a good leader surrounds himself with people who give him the bad news first. Not those who are unfollowing Barack Obama on social media and tagging you to demonstrate their fidelity. Leadership is never easy. In calm waters every ship has a great captain; it’s in a storm that one’s mettle is tested.
Good luck, Rahul. I remain your well-wisher always. And a devout Congressman.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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