On 28th December 1885, 78 prominent public figures across the length and breadth of erstwhile British India gathered at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit college at Bombay to lay the foundations of Indian National Congress.
Initially the Congress started off as a social movement. The two main tasks Congress undertook in its initial years were making sense of the British Raj and raising the public awareness. It is widely referred to as the moderate phase of Congress.
The congress then transformed into a pressure group with the rise of extremist leaders popularly known by the shibboleth Lal-Bal-Pal. The Swadeshi movement of 1905 was the high watermark of extremist phase of INC.
Its ultimate metamorphosis of Congress into a political party came with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi firmly at helm pulling all the reins. The non-cooperation movement of 1920, by and large made congress a mass-based political party with regional offices and widespread membership.
Life has come a full circle for congress. From a political party in 1920s, to leading the growth and development of the country till 2014. The cogs of the wheel of time are turning back. Today, it is again nothing more than a pressure group, and a poor one at that even. And, if the electoral performance is anything to go by, it may soon be reduced to a social movement once again.
It’s quite intriguing to analyse how things have come to such a pass. A value-neutral and objective enquiry of the same yields that the reasons are profound and many.
A simple reason can be the electoral fatigue of the population and their longing for a change. After all, an effective incumbency of more than 7 decades is tiring, boring and monotonous. But, this is a rather simple explanation to something far more complicated.
For starters, the structuring of Congress is problematic. While the base seems hollow and wiped out. The top is recalcitrant, arrogant and divorced from realities. With successive handover of leadership down the family lineage, the party epitomises the repugnant imagery of nepotism. The present leadership shows lacks both attitude as well as aptitude. To make matters worse, the leadership is surrounded by sycophants and yes-men, for whom the main ambition is not progress of party per se, but maintenance of their exclusive closeness with the top leadership. Even their own political acumen is questionable considering most of them have never fought an election.
There is a palpable lacuna of spirited cadres in the congress party. With Congress out of political power, it’s tradition of distribution of patronage has taken a considerable beating. The old workers which worked earlier for quid-pro-quo today find little incentive working for the party. More over there in no inherent zeal or inspiring leadership to take the party workers to task.
The results are for everyone to see, the party is in doldrums. It managed to win only 15 seats out of 186 where it was in direct contest with the BJP. For the last two general elections it has not been able to breach the 10% seats mark in a Lok Sabha to stake a claim for the leader of opposition position. And if the recent elections and bye elections are anything to go by, things are still heading south for the Grand old party of India.
Despite two successive winters of intense protests against the government, the Congress has failed to champion the popular anger. It has not shown any will to capitalise on the anti-government sentiment or to generate any political goodwill. The maximum the leadership has able to put forth in the public domain is a disparate and sporadic set of tweets. It is the classic manifestation of the grassroots disconnect congress today typifies.
The road ahead for congress is bleak. Already there are rumblings of dissonance inside the party. Many prominent leaders like Scindia, Himanta Biswas Sharma have already jumped the boat. Letters penned by 23 prominent congressmen criticising the leadership are in public domain. The party is essentially staring at an existential crisis. And this in turn gives a carte-blanche for BJP under the garb of electoral successes against the battered Congress.
It is perhaps time for Congress to engage in serious introspection and overhaul. Congress can take a leaf out of its own history as to how Mahatma Gandhi successfully restructured the party at a time when it was turning insignificant, or when Indira Gandhi successfully rebuilt the party following a split in 1969.
There is no better opportunity than this to bring in internal party democracy in Congress. It can take the lead in bringing in this much needed reform. Congress needs to go back to the masses. Providing objective opportunities for all politically enterprising Indians irrespective of their connections with the high command can rekindle and revive the party.
Otherwise, the congress is already comatose, while no one is sending flowers.
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