The Congress party needs to build coalitions while managing their internal troubles.

Rahul and Sonia addressing a meet
Voices Blog Thursday, August 27, 2020 - 07:59

The Indian National Congress (INC) is back in the news for another episode of melodrama. This time, the theme was ‘Leadership and Leaked Letter’. This has definitely made for an interesting start to the week and once again pointed to the soup that the Congress party finds itself in, time after time. The party has been in the news for all the wrong reasons and this was after a long drawn out episode of ‘resort politics’. The second-largest political party in terms of vote share is now struggling to find a leader who can steer the ship further. While many political pundits have called it the sinking ship, it may not be a valid argument owing to the fact that the party received 19.01% votes in the 2019 general elections.

The controversial letter by senior Congress leaders, the Congress Working Committee meeting which followed and the parallel drama on Twitter definitely tempted many of us to buy popcorn. However, by the time the corn had popped, the drama had ended. This has become a continuous affair in the Congress’ storyline. Therefore, we can expect more in the time to come. Hope, it’s official historian is not missing the nuances of this drama. Eventually, it may become an Indian version of House of Cards to be screened on one of the OTT platforms.

To start with, one should look at the leadership, structure and systems of the political party against which Congress wishes to stand as opposition. It is the BJP! The opening pages of the biography of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will definitely speak highly of his humble beginnings at the grassroots. His experiences are lived realities and his ascent to this position was/is supported by many wisemen as well as innumerable backroom managers. Modi was never a state unit president nor a national president. He was always in executive positions which largely entailed interacting and engaging with the masses. He still continues to stay in touch with the people at the grassroots through his Mann ki Baat monologues and talks to his cadre as often as possible through various digital initiatives. Well, now Congress needs to find a person who would stand in opposition to this huge personality!

The current times — with increasing COVID-19 cases, rising tensions on the border with China, the worrying state of the economy compounded by the ongoing pandemic — are fast turning into a nightmare for Indian voters. The ideal rational voter should be disgruntled with the establishment in the given circumstances. Yet, the popularity of PM Modi and his government remains unhindered despite the country going through perhaps the most challenging times in the recent past. 

As per the India Today Mood of the Nation Survey, 34% rated PM Modi’s performance as outstanding (same as January 2020), 44% rated it as good (up by 10% from January 2020). This isn’t surprising at all. Clearly, none of the issues plaguing the country have had any affect on the approval ratings of the PM. While many factors are at play for this perception to remain intact, the most crucial one has been the failure of the Opposition parties to push these issues to the public agenda.

Empowering cadre, adopting an issue-centric approach

Congress as the second largest party in the Lok Sabha has a bigger role to play in the current political landscape. While the party has failed to build the public agenda, the Congress camp also does not have leaders who could stand as a challenge to the charisma and popularity of ‘The Narendra Modi’. It is not just that. The Congress party needs to build coalitions while managing their internal troubles. 

Congress has some strong regional figures who have proved their mettle through their troubleshooting and firefighting skills. They also have some young guns in the party looking for better opportunities. This would be a good time to carefully redefine the party’s structures and its systemic character. Since the national elections are nowhere near, it needs to focus on overhauling the organisation. Many pundits who have commented on this have spoken about internal democracy and elections. However, internal democracy in Indian political parties is a good idea, but one whose time is yet to come. We can’t think of any electorally successful political party that has internal democratic structures. It creates unnecessary rifts within the local cadre as well — something which an already battered Congress would not want to deal with. Hence, the party should focus on empowering its cadre first and bring out the leadership potential in every party supporter. The Congress party, which is famously called ‘Congress System’ by political scientists, should innovate new methods to make systemic changes so that at least they can stand in opposition to the ruling BJP.

Ever since the election debacle in 2014, there have been constant questions and discussions wanting for a change of guard within the party. But with the kind of trouble the party finds itself in, is a new president a solution to the problems the Grand Old Party is facing? Will that alone ensure the resurrection of Congress and improve its chances to stand as a strong opposition to the BJP which is now run by the Modi-Shah duo along with the support of RSS? The answer is no. 

For the BJP, the RSS does the human capital management by deputing the time-tested, ideologically robust individuals as and when there is a requirement, whereas the Congress doesn’t have that luxury. It must think beyond a leader-centric approach and move to an issue-centric approach, thus accommodating several leaders who are connected with the cadre. It needs a new set of messengers to take their political message to the masses. At the next level, they need another layer of mobilisers who can activate the dormant cadre followed by political managers at the middle level of the pyramid. There could be mentors at the top of the pyramid who would use their political experience and expertise to guide the party cadre. For now, this could be a good start.

(TVS Sasidhar and Meenu Maria Joseph worked as political consultants and currently work in the development sector)

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