Beyond the chintan shivir, Congress’s existential crisis - Hindustan Times
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Beyond the chintan shivir, Congress’s existential crisis

May 22, 2022 07:48 PM IST

Will things improve for the Congress after Udaipur? They won’t, for nothing will change. Here is why:

Punjab Congress leader Sunil Jakhar’s exit on May 19, and Hardik Patel’s acerbic message to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi days earlier, have paid put to the hopes of loyalists expecting an end to the continuing haemorrhaging of talent from the beleaguered party- and its revival in the aftermath of the Udaipur chintan shivir.

The dynasty’s acolytes hit back and pointed out that Congress’s existence was intrinsically linked to the Gandhi family. (File Photo) PREMIUM
The dynasty’s acolytes hit back and pointed out that Congress’s existence was intrinsically linked to the Gandhi family. (File Photo)

Hardik Patel’s resignation is important both for its timing and content. It came within days of the conclusion of the shivir. The letter brings out the fact of the decay in the party. It hits the nail on the head when it states, “Congress party and its leadership... have been merely reduced to opposing everything, whereas the people always seek an alternative that thinks of their future and is capable of taking India ahead... Congress’s only stand was to oppose whatever the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi did.”

The letter sums up what happened at Udaipur. Most voters who listened to the speeches didn’t miss that no alternative strategies or plans to deal with India’s myriad problems were presented. The shivir deliberations must be seen against the emergence of the Group 23 (G-23), which consists of veteran Congress leaders. These stalwarts came together in August 2020 in the wake of the repeated routs that the party faced. The defiant G-23, at that time, demanded an “inclusive and collective” leadership to run the party affairs, implicitly asking the Gandhi clan to make way for other leaders.

The dynasty’s acolytes hit back and pointed out that Congress’s existence was intrinsically linked to the Gandhi family. In the last week of April, while bidding farewell to Delhi, veteran Congress leader AK Antony candidly admitted, “The Congress cannot exist without the Nehru-Gandhi family”. Recently writing in a national English daily, Mani Shankar Aiyar, another senior Congress leader observed, “There is the deep and abiding conviction that it is the Gandhis who together constitute the glue, or the bonding adhesive, that keeps the party together and gives it an all India profile.”

Reports from the shivir suggest that most of the delegates rejected the G-23 line and were with Antony-Aiyar on the leadership issue. The atmosphere at Udaipur was that of acquiescence to Gandhis. The aporia is that without the Gandhis the party can’t survive, and with them, it can’t revive.

The Congress is facing a two-pronged crisis. Apart from a leadership deficit, the party has no ideological moorings. So how does the leadership expect to hold the party together? For many Congressmen, ideology is a convenient moniker – to be suitably used depending on the exigency of an emerging situation. No wonder the Congress’s political alliances range from the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra to the Muslim League in Kerala.

What Congress stands for is a strange mix of vestigial Gandhism, confused socialism (a washed-out, outdated version of garibi hatao, or remove poverty), crony capitalism, and unhinged “secularism” which oscillates between public displays of soft Hindutva (pre-poll temple-hopping) and working with the tukde tukde gang. This simply cannot work.

Kanhaiya Kumar’s joining the party is a quintessential example, underlining the ideological confusion within the Congress. Kumar was a member of the national executive council of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Communism has failed the world over. In India, its past is punctuated with betrayals against the country. During the Quit India Movement, the CPI collaborated with the colonial rulers and spied on freedom fighters. Subsequently, the Communists joined hands with the Muslim League and British imperialists, and worked towards the creation of Pakistan. India, according to their divisive paradigm, was not a nation, and hence needed to be fragmented into over a dozen independent countries.

After Independence, the Communists waged an armed war against the “bourgeois” Indian government, and supported China when it attacked India in 1962. Urban naxals have their intellectual underpinning provided by the Left. This ideological corrosion in the Congress started with the party’s split in 1969. Falling short of numbers in Parliament, a beleaguered Indira Gandhi leaned on the Left. In turn, the Communists started appropriating the ideological space within the party. Since then, the Congress has outsourced its ideological paradigm to the Left.

Will things improve for the Congress after Udaipur? They won’t, for nothing will change. The Gandhis will continue to be the decision-makers. The caucus surrounding them will continue to call the shots. The culture of political incest and nepotism will remain unchanged. Blind opposition to Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party will continue to define the Congress’s ideological moorings. So, what was Udaipur? It appears it was much ado about nothing.

Balbir Punj is a former Member of Parliament and a columnist 

The views expressed are personal

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