The air is once again heavy with the speculation that Rahul Gandhi is going to take over as the presidentship of the grand old party. This regime, or rather generation change in the Congress will certainly give birth to some questions: what will Gandhi junior deliver and how will he unite the party in an era of continuous election defeats?
At this point, what will Sonia Gandhi be thinking at the moment of Rahul's accession? My mind goes back 87 years to when Motilal Nehru handed over the Congress gaddi to his 40-year-old son, Jawaharlal.
The historic moment in 1929 was described by Frank Moraes in Nehru's biography, "As her son had taken his place in the procession, Swaruprani had showered flowers on him and watched his face, tense but still youthful, glance up at her and flush for a moment with emotion."
Does Sonia have the same luxury, like Swaruprani, of showering flowers on her 45-year-old crown prince? Perhaps not.
But Rahul has to be like Nehru "tense but still youthful". Rahul has an uphill task before him and he must get time to understand the real disease of the grand old party.
There are so many pundits in the party itself who can explain it to him, but he can also refer to Pandit Nehru, who identified the exact challenges that the Congress was faced with and also prescribed the right solutions.
During the Indira Gandhi era the party survived the ailments as the Opposition was not strong and dissidents were shown the door. But after the assassinations of Indira and later Rajiv Gandhi, the disease has turned into a cancer and now the next Congress president does not have the luxury to avoid the call of time.
For a successful surgery to get rid of these ailments, the next Congress president will have to take a leaf out of Nehru's experience.
|Nehru identified the exact challenges that the Congress was faced with and also prescribed the right solutions.
Nehru, on June 4, 1949, warned the chief ministers (all Congressmen), "Our contacts with the masses diminish. We take them for granted and that is always a perilous thing to do. We rely on our past prestige and achievements. There is something in that and we have indeed carried on because of that. But past capital cannot last for ever and living on capital without earning anything is apt to lead to bankruptcy."
If Rahul reads this 68-year-old letter from his great grandfather, he can understand the exact problems of the Congress and the authentic and time-tested solutions for them. How long can the party that represents the idea of India survive by chanting the name of the Gandhi family?
At a time when a swayamsewak is the most applauded leader in the country, Rahul will have to innovate his strategy to counter right-wing politics. Nehru was quite aware that the Gandhian party will face the biggest challenge from the RSS.
"India will only go ahead by our earnest and concentrated efforts and our acting as men and women of vision, who are not pushed hither and thither by petty conflicts or passions of the moment. Fascism arises and grows when we lose this vision and think in petty terms. Communalism and RSS movement are products of this and exhibit an amazing narrowness in outlook, even from the opportunists' point of view."
Rahul should realise that after independence, the Congress developed a habit of behaving like a government machine and lost its connection with the grassroots.
Nehru described it well, "There is at present a great deal of agitation going on in various parts of India by various groups against the governments and the Congress. Unfortunately, in most parts of India there is not sufficient work being done on the part of Congressmen. Government as such cannot function in the way the Congress should function. It has become urgently necessary, therefore, that we should deal with the problems that arise and the criticism that is made in a positive way."
He added, "It is necessary to develop a personal and human touch with our people in the villages, especially what Congressmen used to do effectively in the past. Our people should go about the villages and other places explaining the situation and pointing out our difficulties. This personal touch, if carried on in a friendly and human way, goes far. We seem to have lost that touch and very few people go about as they used to in the old days. The result is that the public comes into contact only with the critics and opponents of government and sees Congress as a government machinery. It is urgently necessary that this aspect of the problem before us should be considered both by our ministers and our colleagues in the Congress."
Does Congress today really care about this crucial warning? Perhaps not. The recent Himanta Biswa Sarma episode in Assam, Vijay Bahuguna episode in Uttarakhand and the Jaganmohan Reddy episode in Andhra Pradesh show that the party is not only losing the connection with the grassroots, but also the connection with its leaders. Elections can be won or lost, but losing leaders is something dangerous. Will Rahul bridge the gap between the top brass and regional leadership?
These are not the only problems. Another problem is that of a static mindset that cannot take quick and bold decisions. In another letter written on February 2, 1950, Nehru gave the success mantra to the Congress, "What then are we to do? First of all, we must never permit ourselves to become static in our minds and smug in our approach. There is no greater danger than that. We have to keep in tune with the masses of our people and try to win their confidence. We can only do so if we work to that end and produce more results. As I think I have told you before, we have not merely to work for the masses but work with them. We want the cooperation of all classes, and yet, in the final analysis, we must give first place to the masses of our people."
This is a time-tested prescription by Nehru for all the ailments the party is afflicted with. The next Congress president will have to merely implement these ideas. Will he?