Rahul Gandhi is adamant. He doesn’t want to continue as Congress president. He resigned after the disastrous Lok Sabha election results. The Congress Working Committee (CWC) is adamant that he continue as president because, as a CWC member put it, ‘The results were not disastrous’.
If Rahul Gandhi is serious about saving the Congress from sliding into oblivion after this level of irrelevance in electoral politics, he should rethink his resignation. He should sack the CWC instead. It’s an oxymoron.
Sometimes, it helps to look at the enemy’s strengths. The BJP is an election machine not because it has been better and bigger than the Congress, but because the BJP knows when to shed the old guard.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in spite of being widely respected, could not retain power in 2004. He walked into the sunset and LK Advani took over with a new team. He failed to oust Manmohan Singh in 2009 and the party went through another structural transformation.
Rajnath Singh was the president under whom the BJP won a majority in Narendra Modi’s name. Soon after that, Amit Shah, the man who organised the 2014 campaign, was rewarded with the president’s post. The BJP has been a different beast since then. It wins election after election with only a few exceptions and often with precision.
It retired giants like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi with ‘all due respect’. They had built the party and quietly bowed out because the party’s interests were above their personal interest. Narendra Modi went and touched their feet first thing after winning the 2019 election. The party effected the rule that leaders above 75 years will not walk the party but will be placed in the Margdarshak Mandal. Some more seniors are set to join the mandal this year.
Just to illustrate the generational shift in the BJP, consider this. The late Ved Prakash Goyal was a minister in the Vajpayee government. His son, Piyush Goyal, is a minister in Narendra Modi’s government - an asset for both the government and the party. After leaving the Congress, Himanta Biswa Sarma is a whizz kid in the BJP and has taken the party to new heights in the Northeast solely because Congress stalwart Tarun Gogoi won’t cede an inch to him in Assam. He plays a critical role in Team Amit Shah.
Now consider the Congress. Sonia Gandhi relinquished the president’s post and Rahul Gandhi took over - but the team did not change. Imagine Team India going for the World Cup with Virat Kohli as captain but Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Yusuf Pathan et al. Team India stands a chance because there’s only Dhoni from the 2011 squad. And he is there because he is crucial to success - not because he is a respected elder.
Now consider the Congress, Sonia Gandhi relinquished the president’s post and Rahul Gandhi took over - but the team did not change. All Madam’s Men are in CWC. Motilal Vora cannot walk on his own and should be resting at home, instead of discussing the Congress’s collective failure at the CWC. Why will he accept Rahul Gandhi’s resignation if he hasn’t the wisdom to leave himself? Ghulam Nabi Azad, Manmohan Singh, AK Antony, Ambika Soni, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ashok Gehlot, Oommen Chandy, Anand Sharma, Tarun Gogoi, Harish Rawat, Siddaramaiah and so on are all pre-Sonia era politicians in the Congress’s central working committee.
Most can no longer win from their own bastions. They spend most of their time in New Delhi Municipal Council area and work out in-party equations to stay relevant for five years and find themselves at sea when faced with the veritable election juggernaut that Amit Shah rides.
While 'dynasty' is a bad word in politics today, the Congress does not have a leader who has the same pull as Rahul Gandhi, which itself is hardly much effective now. Imagine leaders with weaker pulls. The Congress has experimented with a non-Gandhi leadership and has seen how it fragments the party.
Like it or not, the Gandhis are the glue that keeps the Congress party together. But Rahul Gandhi alone cannot win an election. Yes, most of India voted for Narendra Modi the man, but do not discount the enormous organisation that Amit Shah has built to make that happen. The Congress has no organisation left because the organisation has been left in the hands of people who are more interested in protecting their turf in the party than among the people. They draw all their power from Congress and give it none of it.
CWC is the top decision-making body in the party. The decision-making powers have to change hands since the leadership has. The seniors should ideally be guiding the leadership – they should not be part of it. It will be naturally difficult for Rahul Gandhi to be harsh on leaders from his dad’s or grandmother’s era. Indian culture makes it difficult to be rude to elders anyway. Rahul Gandhi has a task at hand: reinvent the party. He can begin with CWC.