The 2019 election campaign did not give too many indications of the eventual one-sided outcome. Narendra Modi, backed by Amit Shah, managed to defeat the opposition comprehensively and come back to power. As usual, the winner takes all the accolades and the mob needs a scapegoat.
In what is now being termed as a Modi wave, Ocean, Tsunami and what not, most of the opposition parties, each one with their own Prime Ministerial aspirations, received massive setbacks. However, accountability is solely being demanded from Congress President Rahul Gandhi. It is curious that the very same commentators who tried to establish the irrelevance of the Indian National Congress and Rahul Gandhi in the run-up to the polls are precisely the ones demanding his resignation today.
Even well-meaning supporters of Congress party are upset with the results and are taking out their frustration on Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and views. The demand for Rahul Gandhi’s resignation needs to be critically examined along with the options available for the Congress party.
What purpose will Gandhi’s resignation serve at this juncture? The party organization and supporters are thoroughly demoralized after this disastrous outcome. In fact, at this critical juncture, the leadership should stand firm and assuage the concerns of party supporters. If Gandhi resigns and goes away, these same critics will turn around and blame him for abandoning his ship at a critical time.
Even if Gandhi were to submit his resignation, what happens next? Any one leader from the existing lot will have to be appointed as the President. The fact is that no other Congress leader has a pan India acceptance. And moreover, none of the other leaders have demonstrated the ability to withstand the Modi juggernaut in their states. Even Jyothiraditya Scindhia lost from his family pocket borough of Guna. The question is whether these leaders who could not ensure middling results in their states or save their own seats can command respect as President.
Even if we were to assume that there are people who can replace Rahul Gandhi and do a better job as Congress President, it has to be accomplished through a democratic process. If Rahul Gandhi or the Congress Working Committee (CWC) collectively nominates someone to takeover, the nominee will still be dubbed a stooge or a rubber stamp of the Gandhi family. It might be easy to nominate a competent leader as Prime Minister or Parliamentary party leader but being the President of the Party has its own challenges.
There are no easy solutions and Rahul Gandhi cannot abandon his responsibility at this crucial juncture. That will be playing right into the hands of the enemies and will only lead to the fragmentation of the party as witnessed during1991 to 1998. At the same time, Gandhi cannot continue as the President of the party for any indefinite period, in the current form. He will have to ensure that either he leads his party back to winning ways or step aside and allow a legitimate leadership to succeed.
Gandhi needs to concentrate on building an effective organization at all levels, throughout the country in the next five years. A nominated leadership cannot command respect and only serve to alienate popular leaders at the state and district levels. Popular leaders who command mass support should be able to lead the party at various levels.
The task is simple. Rahul Gandhi must announce a time-bound program to conduct organizational elections from booth level upwards. Not the usual farce, but genuine internal elections. There might be instances of misuse of money power but that cannot be a reason to do away with elections.
Every single organizational unit of the party should have leaders elected through the will of the members of that unit. Even if a few leaders leave the party on account of the outcome, so be it. The District Congress Committees (DCC), Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC), All India Congress Committee (AICC), Congress Working Committee (CWC) and even the Congress President should be democratically elected through free and fair internal elections.
If need be, there can be reservations for ensuring diverse representation but nominated members should not find a place in any committee. In such a scenario, the organization will be filled with credible leaders who would not be scared of facing an election.
Not any cosmetic change in leadership, but a paradigm shift in the functioning of the party is the need of the hour. There is nothing much to lose and an organizational election at every level will energize the party right down to the booth level. Kneejerk reactions and half-baked measures are not enough to bring the Congress party to a level where it can counter the formidable election machinery of the Modi-Shah duo.
Strengthening the organization with a credible and functional leadership that can assume responsibility for electoral fortunes in their respective domains (instead of solely depending on the Gandhi family), defining a clear economic and reform agenda well in advance, communicating the agenda of the party directly to the masses by focusing on the messaging, and ensuring time bound performance and fulfillment of promises by Congress governments in states are clearly the way forward for the Congress party to revive and reclaim its rightful position in the Indian polity.