It is time now for the Congress to introspect

Special to Times of Oman

India's 127-year-old Congress party is in an introspective mood after the colossal poll debacle. The blame game is still in full swing though not as vehement as we all had expected.

A bout of political ping-pong is nothing short of an anti-thesis and it should be allowed to flourish till a synthesis or a cathartic moment is reached. This may be a tad philosophical but nevertheless quite germane in the context. In short, there's no need for the Congress leadership to tear its hair out over it.

It would be impolitic to heap opprobrium on those who criticise the leadership for the election fiasco. Young leader Milind Deora was perhaps the first to point the finger at party vice-president Rahul Gandhi's technology-driven advisers, who are mostly apolitical. Deora has echoed the views of many in his party that Rahul and his coterie of acolytes failed to read the pulse of the people.

Nobody knows how the party high command would take Deora's in-your-face comment. The party, if wise, would take Deora's views on board as it launches into the usual stock-taking and soul-searching process.

Likewise, the party should be willing to acknowledge if something good emerges on the other side of the political spectrum. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi has started off well, why not acknowledge it? Congress will definitely get a chance to censure Modi when he slips up mid-stream.

Congress MP Sashi Tharoor was hauled over the coals for his words to the effect that Modi's talk and behaviour after taking charge as the PM were in sync with decency and decorum in contrast to his language and attitude during and before the campaign days. He also said that the inclusiveness Modi has displayed so far was something that Congress had always nurtured and cherished.

Tharoor's straight talk discombobulated some senior leaders of the party, so much so one of them remarked that he was in the process of crossing over to BJP. Congress which boasts of freedom of expression both within and outside the party is well advised to discourage this kind of blinkered attitude.

This is not to say that BJP has been all things to all people. Far from that.

The truth is that the saffron party has had a curmudgeonly past with the bulk of its invectives having been directed against Congress, not least the Nehru-Gandhi family. If there is a seeming respite from this attitude, albeit after coming to power, it is to be lauded. Tharoor did just that and found himself in the firing line.

Congress which swears by democracy should show tolerance for internal criticism and graciousness in acknowledging the victory of rival parties. This is the essence of democracy, something which the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was keen on practising.

Much as almost all Congressmen know that one of the main factors that led to the meltdown was Rahul Gandhi's uninspiring leadership, they, barring a few, have either chosen to keep a stiff upper lip or shield him from attacks. The reason is simple. Congress has a history of bouncing back after hitting the bottom of the trough in the most jaw-dropping way.

But in those days the party had leaders like Indira Gandhi, and latterly, Sonia Gandhi to restore confidence in the ranks and unify the party despite its innate fissiparous tendencies.

Indira after the 1977 debacle and Sonia after the 1998 rout guided the party to reinvent itself and come back to power. Now that Sonia is hobbled by an undisclosed illness, the mantle has fallen on Rahul's shoulders. And many are sceptic about Rahul's ability to shepherd the party into a felicitous and effective reinventing process.

Instead of depending on a stock-taking committee, it seems Rahul has started to suss out the reasons behind the huge debacle on his own by discussing with Congress chiefs and other functionaries across the country. But we know that ultimately, it is the ability to read the political tea leaves that makes or mars a leader or party.

In the first place, Congress should allow sufficient freedom to its chief ministers. Its habit of undercutting its own chief ministers or clipping their wings at crucial moments has resulted in the party being decimated in several key states. Like it or not, Congress has a visceral dislike for strong leaderships emerging in states. If Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy does not get the green signal to rejig his cabinet, it would be one more instance where a successful CM is cut to size.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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