Opinion: The Congress party ethos needs a sharp kick-start

Today the idea of India, of Gandhi and Nehru, is on the brink of disintegration. There is a serious threat to its civilisational values. Brute power is the dictating currency

AshutoshUpdated: Monday, August 29, 2022, 10:49 PM IST
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Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi | PTI

At a time when there are serious question marks about the Congress as a political party and also an ideology surviving, it is incumbent on us to remember Rajni Kothari. Rajni Kothari was a giant of an intellectual who walked like a colossus in the arena of academics. He was the original thinker who studied the Congress at the macro and micro levels, both. It was he who coined the term “Congress System” to describe Indian political system in the post Gandhi era. It is this Congress System which is transforming itself into a BJP System with many attributes of the old system and also inventing new ones.

Kothari while talking about the Congress wrote, “The Congress provided continuity from the national movement and at the same time got converted into not just a ruling party but a dominant framework of institutionalising the whole process of power.” According to Kothari, before the emergence of Gandhi, the Congress was active but it had a very “narrow social base” and “ultra modern communication” which was not enough to create a robust social-political upheaval to unseat the British from the seat of power. He writes, “It required the genius of Mahatma Gandhi to recognise the lacunae and to try to provide a mass base to the movement by developing both an elaborate network of organisations manned by thousands of workers at various levels and a new symbolism that would bridge the great gaps and disparities that divided modern India from traditional India without resort to any notions of ‘class war’ that could well have led this highly complex and diverse society into chaos and anarchy.”

Before Gandhi, there were leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dadabhai Naoroji but none had the charisma of Gandhi. Tilak was closer to Gandhi in terms of using traditional but popular symbols to broad-base the freedom movement but Gandhi took the entire journey to a different level. According to Kothari, “Gandhi provided both a concentration of charisma and its dispersal by resorting to traditionalist symbols of identity and cohesion.”

Gandhi’s success lies in his understanding of India, imbibing its cultural ethos and borrowing it to coin simple messages which the larger masses could understand and connect with. His success lies in making every individual feel priceless and accomplished for the greater cause of national freedom. Gandhi turned ordinary men into extraordinary human beings. He set such high standards in public life that it became impossible for others to think otherwise.

After Gandhi, Nehru continued that process. Though Nehru disagreed with Gandhi on many issues and at times was unhappy with his experiments in pubic sphere but like Gandhi he realised that India is a spiritual civilisation and its core can’t be altered by the modern science. Nehru wrote, “I realise that a statesman or a man who has to deal with public affairs cannot ignore realities and cannot act in terms of abstract truths...Nevertheless, the basic truth remains the truth and is always to be kept in view and as for as possible it should guide our actions. Otherwise we get caught up in a vicious circle of evil where one evil action leads to another.”

Nehru, like Gandhi, was not above criticism, but the core values of his politics and statecraft should have been the guiding force for their progeny; alas, it was forgotten, and it was forgotten by none other than Nehru’s own daughter, Indira Gandhi. The devaluation of moral values in favour of crude politics for her own survival slowly but steadily robbed the Congress of its moral aura. During Rajiv Gandhi’s time, the Congress was reduced to being like any other political party which could do anything to remain in power. When power defines the game of thrones then demise is certain, sooner or later. Due to the moral demise of the Congress system, the Congress became a ship without an anchor; drift and disconnect with the public was certain. Narasimha Rao, Sitaram Kesri and Sonia Gandhi did not have the imagination to arrest the erosion despite the Congress being in power at the centre for 15 years since 1991.

Manmohan Singh is a nice person but as a prime minister he did not have the authority to re-invent the Congress, or the mandate to make the party realise its original moorings and glorious heritage. The Anna movement with all its failings was the last chance for the Congress to radically alter the path and redefine the Congress and its ideology, as Gandhi did once he took the charge of the Congress during the freedom struggle. Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi failed to understand that politics in the Indian context is not in the name of economic upliftment of the people only, it has to be supplemented by spiritual awakening.

Today, Rahul Gandhi faces a dire situation in which the demise of the Congress could be permanent, and it could be replaced by another force. The challenge before Rahul Gandhi and the Congress is not that senior politicians like Ghulam Nabi Azad are resigning for greener pastures. Azad’s exit should gladden, not worry Rahul Gandhi. Azad was only a symptom of the disease which afflicted the Congress after Nehru, the product of the system in which power was the only glue. He had no mass base and except in 1984 when he contested the Lok Sabha elections, he remained in Parliament only via the Rajya Sabha. For 34 years he was a prominent member of the CWC and he should have striven to fight for the rejuvenation of the party, but instead he decided to quit.

There are many who might follow his path but if the Congress has to regain its past glory then the reconstruction of the idea that is the Congress has to be worked on with new vigour and modern sensibilities, but without any break from its spiritual past. A new utopia has to be constructed. Fortunately for the Congress, the government has provided enough fodder to rekindle the imagination of the people. Today the idea of India, of Gandhi and Nehru, is on the brink of disintegration. There is a serious threat to its civilisational values. Brute power is the dictating currency. Another idea, that is Hindutva, is fast replacing the ethos of the freedom struggle. Dynasty or no dynasty, democracy is threatened. If the Congress dithers today then the party will be history. Therefore, the Congress has no option but to do what Gandhi did. As Rajni Kothari writes, “Gandhi turned the myth of a pacifist saintly India into a militant organisational style,” to live another day.

The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B

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