A former Congress MP from Madhya Pradesh, and member of the AICC to boot, was expelled from the party a couple of days ago. His crime: he questioned the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. Justifying the decision, a Congress spokesman said that Ghufran Azam’s expulsion was meant to be a warning to other partymen not to question the Gandhis’ leadership. Azam, it should be noted, had commented publicly that Rahul Gandhi was not only a poor public speaker, but he lacked the intellectual wherewithal to lead the party. Can any impartial observer fault Azam for his statement? Given that Azam and countless other Congressmen are victims of the dysfunctional leadership of the party, there should be no harm in openly debating the leadership issue so that the party can win back the trust of the people. But in a party where leadership is a closed chapter, having been permanently reserved for the members of the Nehru-Gandhi family, people like Azam have reason to feel lost, nay, suffocated. In any other democratic party, successive failures to deliver would have certainly called into question the calibre and quality of its leaders.

However, the family-owned Congress is a closed shop, everyone is welcome to join so long as he or she pays court to the Gandhis. Indeed, aside from the BJP and the Communist Party, there is hardly a party in sight which is not family-owned now. The lead for this assault on the very basic democratic principle was taken by the Congress Party when it surrendered its independence to Indira Gandhi, who had split the once mighty party to carve her own rival faction in her own partisan light. Since that day in 1969, the party has given way to a family firm, good only to serve the cause of the Gandhis alone, nobody else. In such a stifling atmosphere, if Azam finds himself ejected, it should not have come as a surprise to him or anyone else.

In fact, he ought to have known his fate when he did some plainspeaking about the Congress vice-president’s poor public speaking and his lack of organisational understanding. After all, a couple of leaders from Rajasthan and Kerala had been earlier meted the same treatment when they had dared to blame Rahul Gandhi for the sorry plight of the party in the Lok Sabha election. Since the party is now devoid of any ideological or programmatic commitments, and its only objective is to perpetuate the Gandhis in power, this Congress has very little to do with the Congress of stalwarts like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Moraji Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri, etc. Admittedly, all parties go through ups and downs in their electoral fortunes, but these essentially stem from the quality of their leadership. A Prakash Karat for the CPI(M) has hardly been a boon, whereas Harkishan Singh Surjeet certainly was. Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani did a lot of good to the BJP, but they too, with the passage of time, had to necessarily make way for other younger leaders, especially when the next generation was competent to take charge.

 If Modi is the undisputed leader of the BJP now, it is not because of anything other than the fact that he has duly earned his leadership spurs. In the case of Rahul Gandhi, despite repeated failures, despite long and persistent attempts to thrust leadership on him, he has been one big miserable flop. The sooner the mother and Congress President, necessarily in that order, realises that cold fact, the better it would be for the GOP to rescue itself   from near-oblivion. The hundred-plus year old party still enjoys residual support in every little nook and cranny of this vast country, thanks to its misappropriation of the claim for waging the freedom movement. It can be revived. And needs to be revived because our nascent democracy needs at least two competing national parties. But, we are afraid, all signs are that unless the party is able to free itself from the stranglehold of the Gandhis there is very little chance of its revival. Given that Modi is proving to be an able and imaginative leader, it will be doubly hard for the Gandhi-hit party to find relevance. Sycophants, who mouth gibberish about Rahul being `a born leader’, need to think of the future of the party too. It is time the Congress Party is allowed a measure of internal democracy and, consequently, the freedom to choose its own leader. Otherwise, the party is condemned to become a marginal player in the federal polity.

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