Rahul Gandhi with former Union minister Virbhadra Singh at a rally in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 4: Rahul Gandhi’s radical views on strengthening the democratisation process within the Congress has been hailed by ordinary party workers but they are now getting cynical about any significant change as entrenched forces are determined to maintain status quo.
Rahul’s strong views expressed yesterday at an interaction with party leaders in Himachal Pradesh has re-ignited the debate, with many leaders dismissing his lofty sentiments as impractical and even naive.
But there is a section that feels Rahul should be supported in his endeavour to address some of the fundamental problems of the grand old party.
Rahul yesterday stressed the need for free expression of views and space for ambitions to play a bigger role in the party hierarchy. He also talked of clearly defined “rights and duties” in the organisation, particularly at the top, which would help in the development of a new leadership and inject fresh energy into the party apparatus.
But talk to any Congress activist and he would say there is no platform available for free expression of views and that nurturing ambitions of playing a bigger role is the best way to antagonise the entrenched leadership.
“Rahul has attacked the very culture of the Congress,” one senior leader told The Telegraph. “During the UPA campaign and the intense interactions with different kinds of partymen after that shock, he has realised what ails the party. We hope he seriously pursues this agenda.”
Rahul’s views, coming after the bitter experience he had in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections, are extremely important as it indicates his desire to bring about structural changes in the functioning of the party.
Although this could also be read as a vote of no-confidence in Sonia Gandhi’s system, party veterans explain that the rot had started decades ago and the problems relate more to the ruthless nature of power politics prevalent in every party, not the Congress alone.
The majority of leaders believe the situation is so grave that Rahul will require enormous courage to bring about any change, even 10 per cent of what he actually wishes to do.
Leaders at different levels privately talk about the need to strictly maintain a low profile as the best strategy for survival. Even senior leaders and ministers argue that silence, inactivity and indecision are golden virtues in the party. “We have to be truly like Gandhi’s three monkeys who don’t speak, listen or see,” one cabinet minister said.
Senior leaders point out problems in the party and offer solutions in private but express reluctance when asked why they do not convey their views to those who matter. “Marna hai kya?” is the common refrain.
They stress that going an inch beyond the assigned task could invite trouble. Even if a party leader attacks political rivals without permission, he or she is pulled up. In states, too, none can speak or hold demonstrations against rivals or the government without permission from the top.
“Forget about expressing your views,” one leader said, “you cannot meet people in your own party without inviting consequences. You have to take care about personal equations, vested interests, egos and hierarchy. The best is to sit at home and follow the instructions of your leader. Being politically active is a crime in the party.”
Another leader buttressed this point, saying: “The entire party apparatus remains in perpetual coma. What does the khet-mazdoor department do? Has the Vichar Vibhag held any seminar in the last ten years? Have you seen any activity in the SC-ST department? If you want to do something, even organise a rally in your area against the BJP, no permission would be forthcoming.”
Rahul has succeeded a lot in transforming the Youth Congress where regular training, interactions and discourses create opportunities to express views, show talent and learn. Regular internal elections, too, have brought a better feel of inner-party democracy there. But Rahul will realise soon that doing the same in the main Congress is a different ball game altogether.