Flux they can’t Fix

Stagnation stalks the Congress even while scams and inflation destroy the UPA regime's credibility
Hardnews Bureau

"Congress has been a party of ideas," thundered party president Sonia Gandhi, in her 12th year in office, during the plenary session in Burari, Delhi, to mark 125 years of Congress's existence. The two-day session did not provide any evidence, though, of any fresh ideas to revive the fortunes of the party that has been hammered by electoral humiliation in Bihar, or save the credibility of its government, which has been hurt by gargantuan financial scams and relentless price rise which has hit the people across the spectrum, especially the poor.

Although Sonia Gandhi spoke well and drew a lot of applause for positioning herself with the ordinary party worker against the high-brow central ministers, many of supporters and cadres went back clueless about how they will fight the coming battles in the states where assembly elections are due in 2011-12. 

Some of the Congress workers from UP seemed a touch demoralised about how they will take on the formidable challenge of Mayawati, who appears to have consolidated her position after the initial slump that she experienced. "We are not very clear whether we will go it alone or have an alliance with some party. Also, there are obvious organisational deficiencies despite the fact that the UPCC(I) president is working hard to cure them," said a local leader from UP. 

More than the financial scams that have tarred the image of the Congress-led UPA government, what worries many of these Congressmen is the manner in which the party lost the elections in Bihar. Their share of votes may have gone up from the past - as they fought more seats than what they did in the past few elections - but the paltry four seats just do not explain the effort put in by Rahul Gandhi and rest of the party. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, along with Sonia Gandhi, campaigned hard and scoffed at the claims of Nitish Kumar, but it did not produce results. 

Party insiders claim that a colossal amount of money was spent in the elections, but it seems it just got squandered or "lost" in transit. There were seven choppers and chartered aircrafts that were at the disposal of central leaders who had the freedom to return every night to Delhi after a day's campaigning. "How can Congress lose so badly after spending so much money? 

Surely, the Congress did not have an organisation to ensure that money gets into the hands of workers and voters like it happens in Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh," claimed a corporate honcho who has been funding political parties for long. 

These organisational infirmities were to be cured by various exercises that had been undertaken by Rahul. Attempts to attract young talent and to democratise the functioning of the Youth Congress has not yielded much ground. His talent search, unfortunately, has not helped the party's fortunes; worse, it has only succeeded in legitimising the status quo with many people from privileged background or progenies of senior Congress leaders taking this opportunity to create space for themselves. 

Rahul's insistence on dealing with the young alone is also creating resentment among the older generation of Congressmen, who believe that they are equally important in reviving the party. 

During his recent trip to Tamil Nadu, where he announced that the state would have a "Congress chief minister", a message was apparently conveyed to the PCC members not to come to meet him. 
Party workers have other woes too! Nearly all of them have a lot of respect for Sonia Gandhi and believe in her inherent goodness, but they find it difficult to reconcile with the clutch of Congress leaders that surround her. They believe that wrong advice is given to her by these so-called "advisors". 

Also compounding their disquiet is the fact that Congressmen are not benefiting from being in power at the Centre, given Manmohan Singh's apolitical ways. The UPA government, barely into the second year of its rule, is desperately looking for ways to get  out of this jam. 

A beginning could be made if new talent is introduced in both the party and the government. Indeed, love for safety and status quo could deepen the grand old party's misery. The stagnation can only lead to popular disaffection, alienation and defeatism. That would spell doom in the next round of polls.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JANUARY 2011