The Indian National Congress is a patient party. It can appear comatose for long and then move to blindside opponents. This ability can also lull it into leaving things too late.
The pace of India has changed since the 2009 General Election. Electronic gadgets have imparted urgency to emotion and thought.
Action must therefore be equally swift. The Congress has appeared tardy in the poll campaigns in four states and at the national level. As the oldest party in India, with the longest stint in governance, the Congress has accumulated goodwill and ill will.
Right now there is irritation, anger and even hostility in large measure. From there to the EVM is a short journey. If the Congress wishes to win hearts it will need to make a few amends. This may not necessarily yield a harvest of votes. But a turnaround without it is unlikely.
Here’s the thing. The Congress needs to do it for itself. They must repair because it’s the right thing to do. Not because they anticipate profit. Here then are 10 immediate corrections the Congress ought to attempt.
1. Declare that Rahul Gandhi is not their prime ministerial nominee. He is not, unless the Congress is grappling with short sight. Every Congress prime minister barring Rajiv Gandhi had previous ministerial stints in the union government. Rahul Gandhi is not likely to ignore this.
So why not state clearly that he is not their man for the top job this time. Much of the anger is because of the impression that he is being foisted on people. Saying he is not may help.
2. Stop harassment of Ashok Khemka. It can’t be that the Nehru-Gandhi family does not know what’s happening with Khemka. Fair play must operate at all times in governance, especially when an officer seeks to inquire into Robert Vadra’s land deals.
Common sense suggests that the Congress, which also heads the Haryana government, should have been ultra careful with Khemka. Vadra is married to Priyanka Gandhi and so Khemka needed support. Not punishment.
3. Formally reject the tea seller can’t be PM remark. Untruth travels fast in Indian politics. I’ve been in gatherings where people have abused Rahul Gandhi for what Naresh Agrawal said. The Congress has nothing to do with what a Samajwadi Party MP says.
It must reject the idiotic notion that the poor don’t deserve to progress. The Samajwadi Party’s support to UPA2 is worthless if it takes India back to the dark ages. A statement in black and white, repeated several times in rallies, is required here.
4. Dissociate with those involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom. What is the point in giving Sajjan Kumar’s son a ticket for the 4 December Delhi election? In the interests of integrity, the Congress ought to have kept all members of Kumar’s family away from party positions.
It’s an occupational hazard in politics – a person’s deeds and reputation impact others in the family. In this case the party ought to have stayed a mile away because it involves the still raw wounds of 1984.
5. Sensitise the front ranks that are the first point of contact. Politics is hugely subjective although it is driven by the larger good. People make decisions based on what happens with them individually. Many people report negative experiences with Congressmen in academic institutions, factories, and in general life.
It seems that many Congressmen don’t know how to behave. Another sore point is the wealth that Congress members seem to accumulate. Training and cleansing of ranks may be necessary.
6. Get Manmohan Singh to speak once a week. The world loves him. Many Indians find him exasperating. His silence has fuelled the perception that he is weak in mind and spirit. He is not but few accept that.
Indian prime ministers function strictly within protocol but it shouldn’t come in the way of connecting with people. A half-hour weekly conversation with the nation might help. Simple direct messaging with no distortion.
7. Limit party and government posts to two terms. Party presidents, general secretaries, treasurers, MPs, MLAs, ministers. No one gets more than two terms, consecutive or otherwise.
The Congress could energise the polity by this simple step. They could even limit posts to one member of a family at a time. It could make them focus on the job and not be distracted by greed. The Congress needs to move fast here because of the widespread impression that it has trouble with morals and ethics.
8. Declare all party income and expense on their website. Don’t wait for the law to say so. Don’t say we are doing what we are required to at the moment. Go beyond it. Give no one a reason to hide or lie. Show political wisdom and put it out. All it takes is a bit of work to organise the data. Once done, it becomes weekly or daily activity. It takes the monkey off the back and soothes tempers. Plus, it releases energy to do the real work of nation building.
9. Agree to come under the purview of the RTI. Other parties are looking to the Congress for cues. The fear that opponents would use RTI to dig out uncomfortable facts is misplaced. That’s a game two can play. All negotiations and seat arrangements are done on paper anyway. No institution has suffered from the RTI. They have only gotten more accountable and professional. It will be the same with the Congress. Worry evaporates with action. Just do it.
10. Set up a permanent Lokpal on the lines of the Election Commission, if that is their stance. Reason says we don’t need the Lokpal; there are enough safeguards against corruption already. Either the Congress says so clearly or it works on Rahul Gandhi’s view of a Lokpal with constitutional authority like the Election Commission.
Not doing anything lets the Aam Aadmi Party run away with it. The Congress needs to talk about it in public first and then lay it out clearly in their manifesto.
Put together, these 10 steps signal intent. It might still be a long haul but at least the Congress would have given it an honest shot. That is all they need to do anyway.
More from the author:
Seven faces of Narendra Modi
Rahul Gandhi: What do his efforts tell us?
Hail not, for Modi is not our first political troll
The last speech: How did Manmohan do?
Think India, not Hindu or Muslim
Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at firstname.lastname@example.org