Rejuvenation of Congress must not marginalise loyalists

Rejuvenation of Congress must not marginalise loyalists

Congressmen ought to celebrate the fact that people want to join when the party's political prospects have taken a downward slide

There can be little doubt that Rahul Gandhi is trying to rebuild the party – going back to its ideological moorings as a Left-of-Centre, secular organisation that cares for the marginalised and the poor. Credit: PTI file photo

The fallout of Navjot Singh Sidhu's shenanigans in Punjab has hit the Congress Party's next-generation leaders - Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. While criticism by the media and Opposition politicians was predictable, rumblings within the party itself should be a cause for worry. This includes not only the voluble G-23 but others in the party who may feel that the leadership tends to reward outside talent. Triggered by the Sidhu embarrassment, such responses could turn into hostility against Rahul Gandhi's efforts to rejuvenate the party by inducting new faces.

It would be wrong to see the induction of 'outsiders' in the Congress as mere disbursal of patronage. The new inductees have political skills rather than the long political genealogies of some who exited the party. Moreover, they are ideologically opposed to the exclusionary and majoritarian ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and are inclined to work for the marginalised and poor.

This clear game plan follows from Rahul Gandhi's widely reported statement in July to workers of his party's social media department, "There are many people who are not scared, but outside the Congress. All these people are ours. Bring them in," he had said, adding, "And those scared within our party should be shunted out. They can go to RSS people, let them enjoy. We do not want them. We want fearless people. This is our ideology."

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There can be little doubt that Rahul Gandhi is trying to rebuild the party – going back to its ideological moorings as a Left-of-Centre, secular organisation that cares for the marginalised and the poor. This is a process of renovation and re-energising the party. It must not be seen by those within the party as a demolition exercise.

Rahul Gandhi's induction of Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani and the political excitement caused by the choice of Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit Congressman, as the new Chief Minister of Punjab have once again demonstrated the power of ideology as an instrument of political mobilisation. As the most outspoken critic of the majoritarian Hindutva ideology of the BJP, Rahul Gandhi must know better than anyone else that this process will have to be continued. For the Congress party not only needs a Kanhaiya Kumar and a Jignesh Mevani but scores of prominent civil society activists, young and old leaders emerging out of the agitations of farmers, workers and tribals. It needs them in droves and not in dribs and drabs. However, he will have to rally the entire party behind his ideological battle instead of serving ultimatums to his critics.

There are murmurs that the current party leadership places a greater premium on rank outsiders while long-term loyalists are ignored. Responses against the induction of former Communist Party of India member and Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Kanhaiya Kumar have stoked reds-under-the-bed fears. Others wryly remark that perhaps they would have to make a detour via another party to be noticed.

Other inductees who have been seen as threatening the precedence of party loyalists are Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee chief, A Revanth Reddy was in the Telugu Desam Party before he joined the Congress in 2017. Prior to that, he was in the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, having started his political career as a student leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad affiliated to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In Maharashtra, the Congress has appointed Nana Patole as the Maharashtra PCC chief. He joined the party after resigning as a BJP MP. In Karnataka, the Congress's potential chief ministerial face Siddaramaiah came from the Janata Dal (Secular). He became the Congress chief minister in Karnataka and is currently the leader of the Opposition in the state legislative assembly.

Unlike Navjot Sidhu, however, each one of them has done their best to live by the Congress ideology, leaving their previous ideologies behind. In the inimitable words of Siddaramaiah, "A daughter-in-law comes as an outsider but soon becomes an insider."

But like the proverbial mother-in-law, those already in the party seem to mistrust the daughters-in-law as "outsiders". They forget that the Congress was a capacious tent that grew by actively ushering in those agitating outside as long as they adhered to the party's overall vision. For the better part of the post-Independence period, those who saw their future and fortune with the Congress were welcome inside. If today, people want to join the party even when the party's political prospects have taken a downward slide, Congressmen ought to celebrate the fact and hope that this process gathers momentum.

However, to prevent alienation within the party, the Gandhis will have to turn to internal dialogue, debate and discussion, which seems absent for now. A situation in which a few prominent activists are inducted but a dozen others exits will not rejuvenate the party. Among the so-called letter writers of the G-23 group of Congressmen, could anyone have doubted the loyalty of a Ghulam Nabi Azad, an Anand Sharma or a Verappa Moily to the party? Party leaders need to ask why these hard-core loyalists suddenly turned dissenters.

When the party finds itself at political crossroads, and its members are uncertain of what the future holds for them and the party, then it is all the more imperative that there are extensive discussions for choosing the way forward. The party no longer holds the "Chintan Shivir" (brainstorming sessions) to decide on crucial issues. Despite announcements that a "Chintan Shivir" like the one in Pachmarhi and Shimla will be held to decide the way forward and for strengthening the party, nothing seems to fructify. The Covid pandemic cannot continue to be the perpetual excuse for not holding internal dialogue within the party or even organisational elections.

(The writer is a journalist based in Delhi)

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