The internal bickering in the Congress has an air of dreary predictability about it. After each poll debacle, voices are raised calling for internal reforms and honest introspection but they are quickly smothered by a coterie of loyalists to the first family caught in a perpetual denial mode. After the drubbing in Bihar, where the Congress ended up dragging down the opposition alliance, dissensions have resurfaced with senior leaders trading barbs in public and questioning each other’s loyalty to the party. The latest bout of exchanges involving Kapil Sibal, Salman Khurshid and Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary reflects utter disarray in a party that is yet to figure out what should be the way forward. Much of the predicament of the grand old party can be traced to its baffling reluctance to resolve the leadership issue. When Sibal spoke about the shrinking space in the party for democratic debate and its directionless drift, he was voicing a sense of helplessness that has gripped many Congress leaders. An SOS from nearly two dozen Congress veterans, including Sibal, a few months ago, seeking “effective leadership and organisational overhaul” was not only ignored but the signatories of the letter were also sidelined in a classic display of intolerance. This has been an unmistakable pointer to a deepening crisis in a party that refuses to look beyond the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Though Rahul Gandhi had stepped down following last year’s Lok Sabha debacle and declared that no member of his family would head the party, there has been no attempt by the party to reinvent itself.
Despite its ideological commitment to secular, liberal and inclusive values, the leadership’s intolerance to internal dissent, insistence on loyalty to the first family and reluctance to organisational overhaul and open elections to the posts have all contributed to devaluing the party’s liberal framework. This feudal streak of status quoism is singularly responsible for the party’s decline. To be fair to both Sonia and Rahul, they have been telling the cadre in no uncertain terms that the new president should be someone from outside the Gandhi family. It was only on the condition that the party should quickly find a replacement that Sonia had agreed to be the interim chief last year. For a party that presided over the destiny of the country for the most part of its post-independence journey, it is baffling that even fundamental issues like decentralisation of power, empowerment of State units and organisational elections at every level remain unaddressed. The Bihar mandate reinforces the fact that even smaller parties like CPI-ML and AIMIM can perform if they are organisationally strong at the grassroots level. The Congress, on the other hand, pulled down the Mahagathbandhan due to its poor strike rate.
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