The investiture ceremony of Rahul Gandhi as the Congress President was performed at the 84th plenary session of the party in New Delhi on the week-end, with a doting mother, who was herself party chief for nearly two decades, proudly watching from the podium. She had kept the family ‘gaddi’ warm all till the son felt confident enough to relieve her of the onerous task of presiding over a party whose brand equity had vastly diminished. What the new boss would do to revive the party only the time will tell, but there was no shortage of brave rhetoric and hyperbole to smite the ruling party into submission. Rahul thundered that he was able and ready to take on the BJP, extinguish its threat in the 2019 poll.
But, there was no indication of the ground troops, who would undertake this onerous task. With less than fifty members in the Lok Sabha, and barely a couple of States under its belt, all this talk of building a new Congress to fight the BJP sounds, well, mere talk. The building blocks of a viable party structure do not seem to be in place, though there is no dearth of hot air to conquer the world with brave and well-scripted words. For someone who has barely been accessible to even senior party leaders to commit from the public pulpit that he would break the ‘wall between leaders and workers’ sounded completely hollow. His own conduct belied his promise. Criticising the Modi Government for its real or assumed acts of omission and commission was par for the course and the Congress president was right to point out several shortcomings in governance.
But his keenness to tar the prime minister with the brush of corruption is bound to fail for regardless of the flight of some of the scamsters to foreign shelters, even the dumbest person knows that the Government has had no role in the entire affair. Unless the courts make it easy for the authorities to impound the passports of big borrowers of bank funds, it would not be easy to prevent another Vijay Mallaya or a Nirav Modi to flee the country at the time of their choosing. Is Gandhi’s party ready to clamp down on the civil liberties of all big borrowers, assuming that all of them are crooks and they would vamoose to foreign lands without paying back to the banks?
Even if he is, the apex court would frown on any move meant to withhold the passports of all bank borrowers in anticipation of a criminal fraud. So, to say ‘Modi is not fighting corruption as Modi is corruption,’ is utter nonsense, pure and simple. Rahul should know that an attempt to tar the PM in the same colour in which he, his family and most of his party leaders stand tarred is a sheer waste of effort. Instead, show some maturity, talk of a programmatic unity of all non-BJP groups in order to give a tough fight to the ruling party in the next parliamentary poll.
The fact that the Congress has virtually ceded its claim to head a potential non-NDA grouping is an abject admission that the party does not have the requisite leadership and the organisational strength to be the first among equals among the Opposition parties. The recent Lok Sabha by-elections in UP and Bihar underline the woeful state of the party. How such an emaciated group can lay claim to take on Modi in 2019 remains unclear.
Besides, despite the recent electoral losses of the BJP, Modi remains by far the most popular leader nationally. In all honesty, Congress needs to reassess its strengths and weaknesses and not live in its past. In fact, it needs to set its sights much lower, concentrating on recovering lost ground state by state, municipality by municipality. Mouthing clichés and boasting of finishing the BJP without organisational muscle and popular backing cannot make the Congress relevant again.
A party of mostly discredited and dejected leaders clustered around an old political family which has lost much of its charisma cannot hope for revival on a diet of clever slogans and an aggressive social media campaign by hired hands. Empowering State leaders, building a grassroots organisation, offering a sensible social and economic programme and, above all, an incorruptible leadership are the prerequisites for a Congress revival. The Congress is woefully short on all these ingredients, regardless of the thunderous calls to the party faithful to get battle-ready for 2019.