The latest season of the drama in the Congress had a familiar ending, complete with predictable plot twists and a scripted performance by the loyal courtiers. Sonia Gandhi has been persuaded to continue as the interim president until such time as “circumstances will permit an AICC session to be convened.” The ‘letter bomb’ hurled by a group of 23 senior leaders was defused after some anxious moments during the fiery meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest policy-making body, where leader after leader pledged allegiance to the Gandhi family and rooted for maintaining status quo as far as leadership is concerned. The dissenters, who sought organisational reforms, a visible and effective leadership and a decentralised party structure, were silenced and eventually made to fall in line. In the process, the grand old party has lost an opportunity to reboot and reinvent itself with a genuine alternative agenda and a collective leadership model that goes beyond the dynasty to regain the confidence of the people. Instead of using the occasion for honest introspection and fostering internal democracy, the pro-reform voices were muzzled. It is unfortunate that the much-awaited CWC meeting has flattered to deceive by treating the call for introspection and change as an affront to the party’s first family. The outcome, largely predictable, has exposed the hollowness of the high command culture and the leadership’s consistent refusal to embrace change.
The content of the letter and the issues it had flagged — the need for elections to the CWC, a leadership that is visible and active on the field, and an urgent constitution of a central parliamentary board — should have been the focus of internal deliberations. Instead, the signatories of the letter became the focus with some loyalists demanding disciplinary action against them for crossing the line. The leadership crisis in the Congress has been brewing for a while. Two back-to-back defeats in parliamentary elections and the failure of the leadership to introspect have demoralised its rank and file. In States like Telangana, the party is grappling with infighting and an existential crisis after steady desertions. The local leaders, with hardly any support base, are forced to root for the status quo at the central level for their own survival. They lack fresh ideas to rejuvenate the party. The Congress has been rudderless ever since the drubbing in the 2019 polls prompted Rahul Gandhi to relinquish the post. The performance of the NDA government on several fronts, including demonetisation, GST rollout, handling of the border issue with China and the coronavirus pandemic, did present an opportunity for the opposition to build an effective narrative, but it was squandered.
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