Congress Working Committee meeting must yield more than the usual dullness for here can be no sharper alarm bell than its performance in 2014 polls – the worst ever in its history, landing it an abysmal 44 seats. Facing challenges, Congress usually mouths cliches like ‘introspection’, last heard after its Delhi assembly rout. But now, Congress needs to do much more. It needs a sharp, serious ideological reboot, one that aligns it with contemporary India.
There are three core areas Congress must entirely rework. The first is patronage politics, manifest in handouts and doles. It has been rightly condemned by Congress heavyweight Kamal Nath, one of the few party members to retain his seat. Kamal Nath joins critics of schemes like MGNREGA and food security, challenged by voters demanding sustained growth. Patronage politics hurts Congress internally as well, as party functions and functionaries are decided by proximity to power than ability or need. This makes Congress resemble one of its own welfare schemes, obese with vested interests, riddled with corruption debts.
The second is Congress’s class attitude, totally off the mark. As prices soared, the party tried guilt-tripping the middle class – then Home Minister P. Chidambaram asking why this section was complaining when it could spend on frivolities like ice cream was a shocker. Later, Congressmen like Mani Shankar Aiyar made ridiculing remarks about Narendra Modi’s economically challenged background, only earning Modi greater popular support. In today’s India class is a flexible term. The poor are determined to rise while the middle class is guilt-free about being middle class. Congress must learn scoffing either does not work.
The third area is dynasty. Being controlled by one family – with seemingly little to offer voters other than glories of a faded past – makes Congress appear mindlessly feudal. As contemporary India vigorously challenges hierarchies, Congress’s dynasty-fixation looks ancient. Rahul Gandhi’s vague, meandering style must be replaced with merit-based leaders who can shape a New Congress. Without evolving thus, Congress will have only one decision to make – whether death by dynasty is worth it. Twenty-first century India is looking to the future, not the past.
The 2014 vedict was as much a vote dynasty politics as it was a decisive mandate in favour of a strong leadership. Aside from Congress, the polls also saw the decimation of other dynasty-based regional outfits. While DMK, National Conference and RLD all failed to win a single seat, Lalu Prasad’s RJD could manage only four – that too after Lalu’s wife Rabri and daughter Misa were forced to taste defeat. Samajwadi Party was reduced to five seats in its bastion, UP. It’s clear that the electorate chose to give dynasty the boot, making apparent they don’t think too highly of patronage politics – giving the go-by to merit-based criteria – that family based parties have come to illustrate.
Look at the other parts of it how non-dynasty parties such as AIADMK, BJD and Trinaool Congress, with their strong regional leaders, managed to push back the BJP wave on their home turfs. Their commanding performance in Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Bengal respectively confirmed that the electorate favoured leaders who don’t foist their sons and daughters on them. If dynastic parties are to turn their fortunes around all of them – not just Congress – they must question the relevance of dynasty in today’s politics.