Congress needs wiser leaders, not younger ones

Who stopped the likes of Ahmed Patel, Digvijaya Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Rajesh Pilot, Salman Khurshid, and Madhavrao Scindia… from rising when Rajiv Gandhi picked them for the leadership role? A political party with young leaders is certainly far less attractive than a political party with wise leaders.

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Tuesday, May 17, 2022, 08:51 AM IST
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Congress party leaders Sonia Gandhi and leader Rahul Gandhi | AFP

The Congress has yet again reiterated that communal polarisation is the gravest threat to India. While it disturbs social harmony, it also affects the economy which requires peace to flourish. The Chintan Shivir in Rajasthan’s Udaipur rightly stressed on the menace as we indeed are compelled to face newer issues of discord almost every other day. Communal tension has acquired serious dimensions and the silence of the ruling BJP has given legitimacy to the Congress charge that it was part of a sinister agenda to perpetually keep people in fear and anger. Sonia Gandhi led the charge by directly targeting the Prime Minister and the Udaipur Declaration accepted this as the main challenge by announcing a nationwide “Bharat Jodo” yatra from October 2. The Chintan Shivir also highlighted the scourge of unemployment and growing financial inequality, promising to reset economic policy so as to enable greater focus on social sector spending and public welfare. The situational logic supports this shift as millions of people have fallen below poverty line, livelihood options have diminished and the abnormal inflationary pressures have burdened the middle class. It is difficult to find fault with the Congress on these positions.

The problem is that this is not the first time the Congress has discovered that communal polarisation is a threat to constitutional rule in India. The Congress has been singing this tune for long; its volume is becoming louder by the day. If communal polarisation was the only reason for the BJP’s victory, the Congress would have knocked it out by now. But there is more to BJP politics than Hindutva appeal. There is no match for its mobilisation skills, its capacity to communicate the message to the masses, and the personal charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Add to that the lure of welfare schemes, massive media support, and ceaseless canvassing by the powerful cadre-base of the RSS, making the BJP such an unbeatable election machine. The Congress keeps crying about the disconnect with the masses but does little about it. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have dwelt on the party’s inability to connect with the masses and communicate effectively on countless occasions. The debate at Udaipur should have revolved around the causes of this disconnect and the leadership’s failure in curing this disability. Though the plan for a yatra from Kashmir to Kanyakumari sounds impressive, the success depends on the sincerity of senior leaders who will be assigned to execute the programme. If Rahul Gandhi himself takes this seriously and leads the padyatra, electoral dividends cannot be denied to the party.

The Congress has often complained about media biases and institutional decay but failed to offer a credible response. Acting as a crybaby is no solution. If they have correctly identified the problem, they won’t be able to succeed till they find the right remedy for the malaise. The proposals to strengthen the communication system and the feedback mechanism may help. The plan to constitute an advisory group for the Congress president, a task force for implementing the organisation reforms and greater representation of the oppressed classes are welcome. But the strange emphasis on age, reserving 50% of positions in organisational machinery for people below 50 years, is inexplicable. Promoting talent and injecting fresh blood into the organisation requires vision and fairness in the leadership, not a regressive quota system. While age does tell on the physical capacity of individuals, giving primacy to those below 50 years in politics is a stupid idea. You are not creating a sports team that requires physical agility to perform. In politics, what matters is wisdom and knowledge. Packing the organisation with people on the basis of age is a weird idea. If a young leader shows promise and commitment, encourage him or her by all means. Who stopped the likes of Ahmed Patel, Digvijaya Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Rajesh Pilot, Salman Khurshid, and Madhavrao Scindia… from rising when Rajiv Gandhi picked them for the leadership role? A political party with young leaders is certainly far less attractive than a political party with wise leaders. Rahul Gandhi was berated by veteran Karan Singh at the Jaipur Chintan Shivir when younger leaders raised a chorus for matching the BJP’s robust nationalism without caring for ideological purity. The idea of a training institute betrays the leadership’s concerns about ideology and knowledge of history and political culture among the younger generation. Hope the party learns from the mistake of laying undue emphasis on youth by analysing the cases of Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, and RPN Singh.

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