THE TRAGEDY AND FARCE IN CONGRESS’ LEADERSHIP DEBATE

The pre-scripted theatrics and rhetoric along the expected and familiar linein the ongoing CWC meeting over the leadership succession issue in the grand old party resembles the observation of Marx which he made in a different context.  Commenting on the farcical and self-staged coup byLouis-Napoléon Bonaparte on 2nd December 1851 in France, in his long easy, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he commented, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

With the benefit of the hindsight,the tragedy in the succession crisisafflicting the Congress was in the events between 1997-1999 when within a year of becoming the primary member of the party, Sonia Gandhi was elected as the party president after unceremonious removal of the Sitaram Kesari and subsequent expulsion of three senior leaders, Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar, for opposing her declaration as the party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 1999 Loksabha election,on the grounds of her foreign origin. The template of a Gandhi resigning in the face of criticism which is followed by a chorus of emotional outbursts by rank and file of the party and their twin demand–of withdrawal of the resignation letter and strict punishment to the dissidents–was firmly entrenched.

The farce is in the repetition of the same template now after 21 years. Consider this: As per the party constitution, it is the members of the Pradesh Congress Committees who happen to be the delegates of the party with the votes to nominate the candidate to and elect the party President. Ironically, at present, most of the Pradesh Congress committees have been competing to show their unflinching faith in Gandhis’ leadership, including the ones in Andhra Pradesh wherein the Congress is effectively reduced to the status of a signboard party. The farce is, they are not even taking sides between the mother and son duo. Rather, the attempt is to harmonise their loyal preference between the two when we find a standard worded resolutionsby themrequesting Sonia Gandhi to continue as the party president with the carefully worded qualification that in case she refuses to do so purportedly on health ground, Rahul Gandhi should take over as the Congress chief.Where is the real choice?

This farce of the ongoing CWC meeting is also problematic for its deliberate obliviousness to the popular societal perception which is twofold. One, majority of the electorates do not accept Gandhis’ as their leader and two, they aren’t even hopeful that the party could have an autonomous and grounded non-Gandhi as it’s president. In this backdrop, the drowning chorus by the leaders in reaction to the not so critical letter by the 23 senior leaders betrays the state of party which behaves as a Public Private Partnership clubbeing exclusively concerned with the choices of the leaders and workers, without taking any cognizance of the electorates’ perception.

Further, the real crisis afflicting the party is not the unpopular status of the Gandhis. Rather, it’s the cliched argument offered by the family apologists that the party could not afford to have a leadership outside the family despite the substantial waning in their popularity. This circularity of logic is the very malaise which has placed the party in a downward spiral since 2014. A party that couldn’t entertain the very possibility of a rich profile of the top leadership in a non-hierarchical position at a time when the Gandhis are perceived as a baggage by majority of the electorates reveals their status-quoist mindset wherein winning elections–a necessary and sufficient condition for one’s political relevance–seems to be secondary matter. This also betrays a collective lack of passion for politics which only reinforces the image of Congress being a lazy and non-serious party.

This crisis has serious implication for the state of parliamentary democracy in India on account of Congress being the prime opposition party. The successive failure of the Congress, particularly the top leadership, to strike a popular chord with the people and organize them around the issues affecting the same in the last six years has meant that the ruling regime has been given a free pass. Therefore, it is high time that the party comes out of the suffocating entrapment of the decadent Rajya-Sabha-Club leaders who need the family more than the family needing them. Their domineering presence has ensured that being aspirational in the party, particularly by the younger leaders is an unpardonable sin. With notable exceptions, they are the unelected gatekeepers, the parallel of guardian council who owe their well-entrenched power position on account of their unflinching loyalty to the family rather than their popularity among the masses.

Faced with the legitimacy crisis, what Congress needs now is a quantum leap of trust in an autonomous non-Gandhi leadership and freedom from the unfounded assumption that it would lead to the collapse of the party. This change may fail to revive the electoral fortune of the party in the short run, but it would certainly lead to a change in the negative perception that the party is beholden to a family and therefore is colossally short on internal democracy. However, this seems to be a wishful thinking. As of now, given the state of affairs, the farce of succession debate in the party is set to continue whose most expected outcome would be one: the grand old party will end up convincing the electorates that the BJP is there for a long haul.

Dr. Sajjan Kumar is a political analyst. He is associated with Peoples Pulse, a Hyderabad based research organisation. [email protected]  Follow @PulsePeoples