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Shell Shock: Congress still stalled in recovery mode

Source : BUSINESS_STANDARD
Last Updated: Wed, Jun 11, 2014 20:41 hrs
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Nearly a month after it suffered the worst electoral defeat in its history, the Congress is yet to come up with either a coherent explanation of why it lost so badly or even a tentative action plan to rebuild its support base.

In the most predictable manner, both party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi have offered to resign and the offers have been summarily rejected by the party's working committee.

All that has been promised is a reorganisation of the highest body. The need for the Congress to diagnose its malady and rebuild itself is critical not just for itself but also for the future of India.



The Congress occupies a somewhat left-of-centre, secular and liberal space, which is a counterpoise to the right-of-centre Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Plural India, which is still quite poor, needs a party like the Congress.

The Congress' own need to introspect and reinvent itself is urgent because most of its former leading lights like Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, A K Antony and P Chidambaram have either retired or found new perches.

Some of them did not even fight the elections. With a generational change thrust upon it, the Congress urgently needs younger leaders in its front row and the void there is telling. Younger high-profile leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia or Jairam Ramesh still travel politically light.

Many state-level leaders like Ashok Gehlot and N Kiran Kumar Reddy are currently totally eclipsed. In all this, Mr Gandhi finds himself in an unenviable position. He has been grooming himself for a decade now and his failure is abject, not the least because the Congress set out for the parliamentary elections with him as its star campaigner.

Indira Gandhi proved her mettle twice - through the Bangladesh war and by scripting her return to power in 1980. Mr Gandhi and his party have to establish his right to lead the next generation in the Congress.

The best way for the party to start rebuilding itself is by identifying strong state leaders, which is one of the BJP's strengths. And once a leader has emerged, factionalism, the bane of the party, must not be countenanced.

The crop that has emerged under Mr Gandhi's watch includes Oommen Chandy, Siddaramaiah, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Amarinder Singh. Of these, the last elections have been kind only to Mr Singh. On the other hand, the leadership of regional stalwarts like Ajit Jogi and Narayan Rane has come into question.

Strong state leadership is vital since the Congress also has to take on single-state parties with powerful leaders like J Jayalalithaa, Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee.

Overall, Mr Gandhi has failed to build even one strong state leader. However, having strong state leaders means the Congress must become multi-polar since those leaders will need to assert themselves.

The old culture at the top of the Congress of being wary of strong state leaders has to go. And even as the party rebuilds itself, it has to introduce a shadow Cabinet so as to be an effective Opposition and be ready for a future when it may once again be asked to form the government.

Then, it should not have just a bunch of greenhorns on the front benches of Parliament.

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