Congress' legacy issue

Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot may have said that he is not joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but the confusing and fast-moving developments over Sunday and Monday suggest that the crisis is not over, neither in the state government nor in the party. The latest unedifying power struggle, being played out in full public view, cannot be helping the cause of a party that is clearly floundering. This latest episode of inner-party controversy occurs within four months of the disaster of Jyotiraditya Scindia’s revolt, which handed Madhya Pradesh back to the BJP within less than two years of the Congress winning the Assembly elections, and Mr Pilot’s own frequently expressed disaffection with Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot for well over a year, even as another young inheritor, Milind Deora, alarmed leaders by posting praise-laden tweets about Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September last year.

Taken together, these events, which have followed the party’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha election, point to a serious disconnect between the Congress’ geriatric leadership and the relatively young blood that is searching for a new dynamic to counter the juggernaut that is the BJP. This latest civil war certainly underlined more potently than ever before the essential redundancy of the Nehru-Gandhi family. None of the three members who otherwise make themselves so visible in the press has been able to hold the party together. And the party high command, peopled with octogenarian time-servers, seems unable to free itself of the dynasty’s shackles. It is now a year since scion Rahul Gandhi stepped down as president, taking responsibility for the election debacle, and there is some absurdity in his mother taking over the reins for apparent want of a successor.

The party’s inability to create a new political narrative with its younger leaders is the result of a legacy issue — the lack of party democracy. The Congress’s century-old tradition of the top leadership handpicking people for specific posts lies at the heart of the issue. In any truly democratic party, where ordinary party members have a say, candidates for constituencies would be picked ground up, as happens in both the UK and in the US. Chief ministers would then be elected, not appointed. Factionalism would still exist but need not cause the party to split — though splits too are part of the Congress tradition from pre-Independence days. They have become more frequent as the Congress has lost its monopoly on power, and because of an anti-defection law that makes it better for Sachin Pilot (or Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, or Y S Jaganmohan Reddy) to lead a state party than be part of a larger whole — as Ram Vilas Paswan has shown through his frequent shift of alignments. They become independent players, not dependent on the whims of the dynasty that still dreams of a return to the old glory. To be fair, the Congress is not an outlier; the lack of  democracy afflicts almost all political parties in India. But the issue becomes significant because the Congress, with its “big tent” ideology, offers the only challenge to the might of the BJP on the national stage. This Young Turk’s revolt is one more blow to that effort.

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