The Congress is haemorrhaging. The Congress is on the march. Both scenarios are true, speaking of a party which refuses to become whole despite a clear and present danger of its slow death. Even as he marches for Bharat Jodo, Rahul Gandhi’s party is disintegrating, bit by small bit. On Wednesday eight of the eleven Congress MLAs in Goa dumped the party and joined the ruling BJP. The eight include former chief minister Digambar Kamat and Leader of the Opposition Michael Lobo. The central leadership had an inkling of the coming desertions. Only this July it had somehow prevented such a split, persuading the renegades to stay put and offering them a greater say in the party affairs. Kamat was made a member of the Congress Working Committee, a salve for his ego though in real terms it meant nothing. Lobo, another perennial defector who had joined the Congress from the BJP on the eve of the Assembly poll, and ensured the Congress ticket for his wife as well, was made the leader of the legislature party in the hope that it would keep him from defecting. On Wednesday, both Mrs and Mr Lobo dumped the Congress and joined the BJP. Significantly, fearing defections the Congress leadership had insisted on administering an oath of loyalty to its candidates ahead of the poll in February in places of worship depending on each candidate’s faith. Thus the Christians were taken to their favourite church and Hindus to temples to forswear defections. Overseeing the exercise was a central party observer. Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram was one of the senior party observers for Goa, though it is not known whether he approved such oath-taking to ward off future defections. Anyway, it is ridiculous to drag religion into the domain of political commerce. This is not to suggest that money had played a part in Wednesday’s defections, particularly when the ruling BJP party enjoyed a comfortable majority in the Assembly. With eight more MLAs swelling its ranks, the ruling party will now have 33 in a House of 40. The Congress is now left with three. To blame defections on the mendacity of individual legislators or to blame them on the BJP’s devious games is to ignore the cancer within the party which is eating its inner entrails. The Congress is now reduced to a hollow shell, with its leaders and cadres leaving in droves, or sitting home dejected and forlorn due to the refusal of the Gandhis to either lead from the front on make way for someone else to take its charge. Even a fresh election for party president may fail to do anything for the party unless the Gandhis realise that the country is no longer ready to accept them as leaders. The party needs a new leader, a fresh face, a new imagination, a new programme, a new slogan et al. Regardless of the three-month long Bharat Jodo Yatra now winding its way somewhere in the South, the solution to the party’s woes lies in its first putting its organisational house in order. The charade of internal democracy and the consequent election process for party president will not and cannot revive the party fortunes unless the party can connect with the people.
Time and again it has been proven without doubt that the 52-year-old Gandhi scion does not have it in him to become a charismatic leader. Every time he opens his mouth he put his foot in it. Like for instance his gaffe about atta being sold in litres at a recent public rally. For all others it may be a slip of the tongue but in the case of Mr Gandhi he is rightly denied the benefit of the doubt because he is prone to reveal his lack of awareness of everyday life of ordinary people, and his sheltered existence away from the bread-and-butter concerns of the people, in a luxurious cocoon but a cocoon regardless. In the 24x7 media age even someone like Shashi Tharoor or Manish Tiwari would attract eyeballs and thus sympathetic ears for the Congress but Rahul Gandhi evokes a sense of ennui, nay derision.
Of course, the Congress can do better. It is the only national-level party which can challenge the ruling BJP. It still has a number of intelligent leaders. It has a long and distinguished history. Moreover, the country needs the Congress to offer a strong and positive opposition to the ruling party’s various acts of omission and commission. Unfortunately, so long as the confusion over leadership persists, the party will fail to prevent a further thinning of its ranks. The Goa defections stemmed from a growing feeling that under the current leadership there is no future for the Congress. The Bharat Jodo Yatra cannot dispel that mood of despondency and hopelessness in the party ranks; a new leadership will. Unfortunately, of that there is little hope. Therefore, expect the Congress to bleed further.