Shashi Tharoor has been throwing down some testy short stuff aimed at the rib cage of Congressis for a while now but it was Sanjay Jha that delivered the bouncer to the helmet when he declared that “Congressmen are watching silently as the party hurtles towards political obsolescence”. Jha was quickly sent off the pitch so to say and sacked as a Congress National Spokesperson, and subsequently, from the party itself. His sacking proved there was merit in his criticism and reopened the flood gates to the question of what ails the Congress party. Most answers to that question have been unchanged since 2014 – unfit leadership, lack of organization structure and discipline, no investment in dedicated cadres and dynastic culture.
While none of those are incorrect, they all miss the forest from the trees. It’s like your friend advising you to wear looser clothes, not telling you to lose the extra weight. The best salesmen may be able to sell ice to an Eskimo but in politics, the product or ideas are critical.
The main issue facing the Congress is not the dynasty, though it is clearly a heavy anchor for any national relevance in the near term. The main challenge is that it tries to be everything for everyone. The dhaba with 101 dishes, none that stands out.
When you attempt to target all voters, you end up targeting no one. The ‘product’ becomes watered down and unappealing to anyone except those that have to hold their nose and press the ‘hand’ because of no choice. To make things even more unappetizing for the voter, the Congress takes any bland, imported liberal principle, and applies an anti-Hindu tadka before serving it to the voting public as its proud creation. Let’s take a few examples.
Secularism – a concept birthed after centuries of religious warfare in western countries is interpreted by Congress to mean that Muslims can be infantilized and not be expected to follow the same basic rules. Common civil code? Sure, for the barbaric Hindus but Muslims should manage their own affairs the way they see fit. Can we teach an accurate account of Islamic invasions and rule? Nope, it was a peaceful cultural exchange program from so long ago, and anyways, now we get to enjoy biryani and shayaris so let’s not disturb communal harmony.
Economic equality – again, a concept imported from the West gets translated through the warped Congress lens. The statement ‘Muslims must have the first right to resources in the country’ could easily have been made by a Jinnah or a Khameini. Instead, it was made by PM Manmohan Singh, in one of his few moments of refreshing honesty.
Security and Law & Order – the most basic function of any government is law and order. The reason for the Congress’ abject failure in this regard was revealed through Wikileaks, where it was disclosed that Rahul Gandhi told the US Ambassador to India that the real threat to the country was not terrorists from across the border but ‘Hindu extremists’. This was said while terrorist attacks took place around the country with a depressing frequency at the hands of the IM, LeT, SIMI and others.
One can go on and on but the point is that all political parties have a core ideology, one that was never clearly defined for the Congress. The hard work of ideological definition was avoided and deemed unnecessary due to the transition from the British Raj to the Nehru-Gandhi Raj. Political dominance was sustained by manipulating and leveraging the organs of civil service, the press, and the judiciary. There was also the inability of the opposition to gain enough credibility among the masses. That all changed for good with the Ram Janambhoomi movement and the rest, as they say, is history. But again, it was the clear-sightedness of claiming the issue that led to the BJP gaining mindshare and eventually vote share. Issues and policies need to be defined first before settling on leadership.
The Congress is doomed to be in a state of suspended animation for the foreseeable future. It will get attacked by the regional and Islamist parties from the left, while the BJP and perhaps a future right-wing party jostle for the remaining space. Much hand-wringing will be done on the question of the Gandhis but without them, the party would be sure to fall apart, and with them, sure to stay stunted.
What can the Congress do in such a comatose situation? A possible prescription is available but suffice to say, taking a hard look at who the Congress wants to be is the first step on a long and arduous road to recovery. It is also important for the BJP to account for such steps in order to be ready with counter moves should it continue to hold its dominant position in Indian politics.
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