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A SLIVER OF OPPORTUNITY

As the Congress prepares to introspect and come to terms with the many failures of the United Progressive Alliance coalition government, the shock that it will get will hopefully shake it out of its inexplicable intellectual lethargy. The party and its coalition allies seem to be fulfilling some sort of death wish as they refuse to progress with the times and trundle about operating within the parameters of a time gone by. They ignore the realities and demands of a new millennium and the multidimensional aspirations of a new generation of Indians, many of whom belong to a fast-burgeoning middle class as well as to rural areas. These Indians want to be included in the country’s entrepreneurial growth story. For the Congress — the only liberal, national political party that encompasses the enormous, complex diversity of India and its many identities — to betray the people of the country by its laziness, selfishness and its refusal to redefine the mechanisms of modern-day politics in a concerted manner and to radically overhaul the prevailing and debilitating narrative is unacceptable.

The glaring fact that the party’s younger leaders are invisible in the public space, disengaged with India and disconnected with the people, tells a story that has scary portents for the immediate future. One does not expect anything new or intelligent from the senior, failed leadership that is, yet again, in charge of organizing the Congress enclave in Jaipur, but there are expectations that the younger rung of elected representatives will force the change within the party and take charge now. ‘Experienced’ leaders have brought the country to the brink of socio-political anarchy. The large middle class is demanding clean and efficient governance minus the horrific corruption and bribery that haunt all Indians in their daily lives. It would be so easy to restore dignity if the leaders are prepared to reform their personal and professional lives and go back to serving India and its people.

In this present political scenario, India will demand a strong leader. I have no doubt in my mind that India would ideally vote for a strong democratic leader rather than a strong dictatorial right-wing leader who, backed by corporate honchos, would polarize a multicultural country in the name of development. Sadly, India has no such strong democratic politician in sight who can successfully contest elections against the man who may possibly be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate in the general elections slated to be held in 2014. But India could have a democratic contender to the throne in Delhi if the Congress had the courage and the wherewithal to step away from its corroded, inactive political operation. It could succeed if it managed to regroup and restructure itself and take on the challenge to connect and engage with the people and to fight for what it claims to believe in.

There is a sliver of opportunity for the Congress to reinvent itself and renew its faded, scarred and deeply diluted ethics by taking the bull by its horns in Jaipur later this week. If it fails, the UPA II will be responsible for forcing India into a terrible period of social turmoil. This will be the result of the polarization of political rhetoric to woo a middle class, the votes of which have grown and may well be equal to the rural vote bank.

Such populist posturing will be applauded by a business community that will support uni-dimensional, narrow governance in a multicultural domain. This sort of governance will, by its very nature, become untenable sooner rather than later. India will have missed the bus again and will be set back in time and in progress.

I often wonder why the young leaders in the Congress — and the men and women in their forties and fifties — do not assert themselves and take over the reins from the aged leadership. It is laughable and perverse at the same time. The fear of taking on the challenge of revamping governance, both within the party and at the Central level, is incomprehensible to the people of India. Why are the best and brightest people forced to remain invisible and inactive by the party bosses? Why is there such a profound insecurity about having to retire and pass on the baton of governance? These questions become even more puzzling and damaging when these people — some of whom are not even elected representatives — refuse to retire to allow change and growth to enter this vibrant democracy.