CONGRESS PARTY: Time to pass the baton to a new generation

George Abraham, the Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA
George Abraham, the Chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, USA

There was so much commotion made of Rahul Gandhi’s absence from the political scene in India for the last two months. BJP which regularly made him an object of sarcasm and sharp criticism appeared to have missed him the most!Although Mr. Gandhi is supposed to have the SPG protection and the Government might have been privy to his whereabouts, BJP did their utmost to fuel the speculation through leaks and other means that he was absconding.

Although the timing of his absence could be questioned, where Rahul Gandhi travels for a vacation or vipassana has very little impact on the political dynamics in India as he wields no power or authority to affect any substantive change. Why then all this hue and cry? It is politics as usual in India where the ruling party prefers to talk about Rahul’s vacation more than it does about the 7000 suicides of the farmers under Modi’s watch.

However, quickly upon his return, he sprung into action by attending a massive rally of farmers in New Delhi and went on the offensive accusing Modi government of turning its back on the poor and ignoring the plight of the farmers. His actions not only put the Prime Minister on the defensive, but Modi was compelled to gather a meeting of all BJP Parliamentarians in a hurry to showcase his concern and sympathy for those rural folks.

The tables seemed to have been reversed barely within a year after the BJP under the banner of ‘strong and dynamic leadership of Narendra Modi’ promising “Acche Din” rode to power with an impressive mandate. They have characterized Congress as a party with no vision and a thing of the past. They were dismissive of India’s emergence as a global economic power mostly under the leadership of Congress party in the last 65 years and declared their intention to make India ‘Congress free’.

According to news reports, Farmer Tarachand Mathur was one of millions of Indians who voted for Narendra Modi to power last year, but the government’s push to make it easier for big business to forcibly acquire land means he won’t be backing the premier again. Mathur, 64, believes Modi has turned his back on the plight of farmers, many of them have seen their crops devastated by unseasonable rains since the start of this year.

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Bhupender Rawat, from the non-profit National Alliance for people’s Movement, is quoted as saying
‘farmers are not fools; they can see what Modi is trying to do’. ‘Modi has been going abroad and telling investors – come to India, we will give you cheap land and labor – and the farmers are getting cheated’. Rawat added.

This issue is very close to Rahul’s heart as he has always identified with the poor and empathized with their plight during his crisscrossing of rural India while championing their cause. Even to his fiercest critics, his concern and commitment to the uplifting of the disadvantaged is simply unquestionable!

Last October, I had the opportunity to sit down with him at his residence in Delhi and to discuss the May election debacle and about the future of the Congress Party. Although I was interested to talk about the need to get the Diaspora more connected as the Party was introspecting, he took the conversation entirely to a different direction; the current dynamics that is underway in the body politic of India.

He spoke at length of the pre-independence coalition of feudalists, colonialist-sympathizers, royalists, ultra-nationalists who promoted caste hierarchy, division and bigotry and opposed the Independence struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. According to him, elements from that same coalition have regrouped and are re-branding themselves with strong religious overtones to undo the progress Congress-led governments have made over six decades. He believes that unless checked, these regressive forces would take India backward and nullify the prospects for the poor and the downtrodden to make any progress on their own. He reiterated his strong belief in the principle that political tranquility is fundamental to economic prosperity and that every segment of the society including the minorities should play a part in the development of the nation.

Obviously, he is a follower of the Nehruvian philosophy of inclusiveness and tolerance and a believer in affirmative actions to level the playing field for those who are backward and disadvantaged in the society. To many in the opposition, this entire clamor about ‘dynastic rule’ merely translates into doing away with the Nehruvian vision and subscribing to a regressive past. Therefore, a successful re-entry of Rahul Gandhi into the political arena assures a continuity that is anathema to this audience.

Then there are those who blame Rahul Gandhi for the disastrous defeat of the Congress Party in the May election. However, to any independent observer, the election was regarded as Modi’s to lose. With every Congress leader I have interacted, there was a mood of resignation and inertia prior to the election. There was very little enthusiasm from top to bottom as the grass root workers mostly stayed away to make any difference. Why then blame Rahul alone for the defeat of the party?  He tried to do his best while many, if not all, in the top leadership could neither articulate nor defend so many of the accomplishments of the UPA I and UPA II before the public.

The Congress party was at its rock bottom when Sonia Gandhi assumed its presidency in 1998 and her sheer determination and dedicated effort paved the way for the two successive terms for the Congress-led government. Many of its seasoned leaders have contributed a great deal to its success over the years. However, we are at a juncture where an infusion of new blood and incorporation of innovative ideas is critical to the party’s very survival whereas many in the senior leadership could continue to play a role as elder statesmen providing wisdom and guidance to a new and decisive leadership.

Time has come for a new generation of leadership for the party. There are indeed many bright young leaders waiting in the wings and willing to get on with rebuilding the Congress party. However, I believe, having been appointed as the Vice-President, Rahul Gandhi ought to be given an opportunity to lead the party. Let him get a chance to prove his metal. He is bound to make his share of mistakes and the senior leaders are not immune on that score till now.

It is time to end the long introspection and endless analysis. Having two power centers for the party seems to confuse the cadre and obfuscate the message to the public. Let him restructure the organization to make it more responsive to the public and get connected to the Diaspora. The frustration exhibited by the farmers towards this Government is only the tip of the iceberg. At the end of the day, compassionate policies and ethical governance will trump empty oratory and tailored suits. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of the Congress party is highly exaggerated. Let the new era begin!

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