Rahul Gandhi should step down as president of the Congress not because he ran a poor campaign in the 2019 elections. He should go because India is just not ready to listen to him. A politician who can’t even make himself heard, even when he talks about the welfare of the people he seeks to represent, has no right to a leadership role.
In the 2019 campaign Rahul espoused ideas that India badly needs: secularism, poverty alleviation, more jobs, healthy economy and a liberal society where religion has no role in politics or policy. But, his biggest failure was his inability to convince voters that Indians need to select a government that talks about and vows to protect the founding principles of the Constitution and our democracy. Instead, his presence pushed the country towards the BJP’s emotive issues of nationalism, Hindutva, divisiveness and a muscular foreign policy, ideas that have got very little to do with the welfare of citizens. For this very failure, for allowing emotive issues to triumph over day-to-day concerns of Indians, Rahul should resign and let someone else lead the Congress.
His departure is necessary to create space for someone else to find a new language and a new idiom to represent most of the ideas the Congress embraced in 2019. In essence, the Congress doesn’t need to do something different, but it needs to do it differently, with a different face. It needs someone who the country is willing to listen to, someone whose ideas, words and thoughts they find credible even if most of them are exact replicas of Rahul’s in 2019.
The problem with the Congress, unfortunately, is that it would continue to lean on Rahul, fully aware of the fact that he has been rejected twice by the Indian voter. In an era of consumerism, 24×7 marketing, brand building and heightened awareness, a product that gets discarded once almost always disappears from the market. Smart companies understand the dynamics of the market and do not waste time and resources on re-launching a product once it has failed, primarily because they realise consumers do not want to associate themselves with inferior brands for fear of themselves being called losers. But, in all likelihood, the Congress working committee that is meeting on May 25 to discuss the poll debacle would once again vow to fight the next election under Rahul’s leadership.
There is, of course, the argument that who should lead the Congress if not Rahul, or for argument’s sake, his sister Priyanka. The 2019 results have shown that most Congress leaders—including its chief ministers in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh—are incapable of protecting their own turfs. Its other so-called senior leaders don’t even have the ability to win a municipality election in their own backyard.
Some voices in the Congress have suggested in private that Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh be given a bigger responsibility. But, they do not understand the basic issue of India’s current politics—the polarisation of Hindus as a pan-India support base for the BJP. The Congress has won in Punjab because of the counter-polarisation of Sikhs against the BJP. Choosing Singh as Rahul’s replacement would relegate the Congress to the status of a regional party of the minorities.
So, what should the Congress do with the leadership question?
Metaphorically, as Yogendra Yadav said, the current Congress has to die; and then reappear in a new, modern avatar. It needs to pull down the existing structure where an outdated group of ageing loyalists—euphemistically called the working committee—sits at the top and reports to the dynasty. Under a working president, it needs to hold intra-party elections to choose its core committee, office bearers and important functionaries. Once the organisation is in place, it should elect its new chief in an open, democratic election. Internal democracy would not only energise and rebuild its cadre, weed out darbaris, sycophants and arm-chair politicians but also erase the blot on the party of being just a dynasty that contests elections.
To make its base broader, the Congress has to throw open its gates open to everyone who is willing to counter the BJP and its ideology. The Congress was once a movement, an ideology that was later reflected in the basic principles of our Constitution. But, it gradually turned into a closed group of politicians who survived because of their loyalty to the dynasty. If the Congress has to become reinvent itself, it has to go back to the original idea of being a loose confederation of leaders who believe in the idea of India as a secular, liberal country that believes in equality and inclusive growth. If that means welcoming leaders like Mamata Banerjee back into the Congress, allowing them to contest for the top post, so be it.
All this would, of course, take a very long time. But, the good news is the Congress has full five years to revive itself.