CONGRESS … Grand Old Party in decline; ‘celebrates’ foundation day without top brass


NEW DELHI: The absence of both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi at the Congress party foundation day event on Monday has further sunk the mood of Congressmen in the national capital. They see this as fresh proof of the steady decline of the grand old party. The party is virtually rudderless with an ailing Sonia Gandhi holding the post of interim president in the absence of a full-time president.

The Congress party’s steady decline runs parallel to the growth of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – an entity run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in a style fashioned by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS).

Priyanka Gandhi was present at the flag-hoisting to mark the 136th foundation day (this, on assumption that this was the party since the pre-Independence days), but she stood apart. Rahul had Gandhi left in a huff for Milan, Italy, by a Qatar Airways flight on Sunday. Sonia Gandhi was present in Delhi but did not attend the events. She deputed her confidant, former defence minister AK Antony who is also a party working committee (CWC) member, to lead the event.

The Congress party is likely to announce a full-time president in January, as per a promise that Sonia Gandhi has given to senior leaders. She is keen on Rahul Gandhi returning to the post, but hints are that he doesn’t want to. Putting daughter Priyanka Gandhi in that post, Sonia reckons, would be risky in view of the ghosts of her husband Robert Vadra’s real estate indulgences – of taking land of Haryana government at throw-away prices and using them for his real estate business during the term of the Hooda-led Congress government there, and the like – haunting her. Priyanka has other constraints too in holding the post of president.

Alternatively, Sonia Gandhi is likely to go for what the Congress under her is best at: putting a rubber stamp in the post of party chief. It could be someone who will not be smart enough to challenge the authority of the first family in future. At one time, in the 1990s, Narasimha Rao as PM had helped put Sitaram Kesri as party president also with a view to sending out the signals to non-Brahmins that the party cared for them too. This was in the post-Mandal period; a season that saw a backward class rise in politics in north Indian states like UP and Bihar. Sonia Gandhi could not tolerate Kesri’s leadership and eventually took charge of the party herself.

It is well-acknowledged that Sonia Gandhi did much of the back-seat driving for the two UPA governments led by Manmohan Singh. Massive corruption during the two UPA terms – in which Sonia Gandhi’s role too is alleged—led to the ouster of the Congress and its allies from power in the 2014 Lok Sabha hustings. The party has not recovered from this hit below the belt so far.

Fact is that the Congress party virtually has no organizational strength in most states. Its decline across states is steady. Yet, Congress is the single largest Opposition party, with its massive (yet largely defunct) organizational presence in all states. What it does not have is a proper leadership. Self-seekers have made a mess of the party while much of its (hidden) Brahmin support base has been appropriated by the BJP via the RSS.

The strength of the RSS is that it is changing over time, drawing all segments of the Hindu society under its fold through painstaking efforts. It even changed its outlook towards Muslims and other non-Hindu communities by saying it considered “all those who are born in India as Hindus”.

From being an orthodox entity since the pre-Independence days, the RSS is now seeking social change on leftist lines, with a special outreach to the disadvantaged sections of the society – something the elitist Communist leaderships are disinclined to do. Under men like Sitaram Yechury at the helm, the main Communist party, the CPIM, hardly reaches out to the poor or uphold the causes of the disadvantaged, other than doing lip-service for these causes as the Congress party is famous for. An exception, though, is the government led by Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, which initiated a string of social welfare schemes like what the Arvind Kejriwal government did in Delhi. The CPIM, like the Congress, is on a one-point agenda under Yechury’s leadership; namely to court the minorities and turn them into vote banks for the party. The party is, other than for Kerala, an anachronism in Indian politics today. It lost both power and mass base in West Bengal and Tripura in recent years and are not in the reckoning almost everywhere else. Winning an assembly seat or two in a few states helps the party maintain its national party status. The presence of the two Communist parties in the Parliament is at an all-time low.

Meanwhile, attempts are on by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar to emerge as the focal point for the Opposition. Latest heard: he’s flown down to Kolkata to politically court chief minister Mamata Banerjee, 65, and advise her on how to face the Amit Shah-inspired BJP onslaughts on her party and government in the run-up to the state assembly polls in May next.

The 80-year-old Pawar’s success in sabotaging the BJP’s returning to power in Maharashtra and the cobbling of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance a year ago saw the Maratha leader gaining a fresh lease of life in state politics. His stock was down before the assembly polls, but Pawar retrieved it by winning a sizeable number of seats in the Maratha-strong Western Maharashtra region. He is currently aiming to lead the Opposition against the BJP as the principal Opposition, the Congress party, is seen as being rudderless and the Congress family’s heir apparent Rahul Gandhi seen as a failure in politics.

The Maratha leader recently sent feelers via the media to the Congress leadership to have him proposed for the post of UPA chairman, in view of the failing health of Sonia Gandhi who’s now serving in that role. The Congress party simply ignored the proposal. Pawar had left the Congress in the late 1990s when Sonia Gandhi took charge as the Congress president. He said he was opposed to a foreigner taking over the leadership of the Congress party. However, what was seen by many as a coup that Pawar attempted in the Congress leadership, failed. Only a few Congressmen joined Pawar to form the new party, the NCP. In later years, he and the NCP formed part of the UPA led by the Congress and Pawar served as agriculture minister in UPA-II. This was also the time when some of his associates held top posts in governance mechanism and virtually looted the exchequer.

The NCP has over the years acquired the image of being a hugely corrupt political establishment. Pawar family’s wealth grew by leaps and bounds and he is said to preside over an empire in Western Maharashtra by now, including huge swathes of properties in Pune itself. One of the issues that Narendra Modi raised to win the 2014 polls was the large-scale corruption of the Congress and its allies like the NCP and the DMK during the UPA periods. IHN-NN


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