Poor hand: strife within Congress
The Congress, given its waning political fortunes, could do with a pep talk. Sonia Gandhi, the interim party president, chose the occasion of the party’s foundation day to help revive the flagging morale of the Congress rank and file, urging party workers to defend the edifice of democracy and the spirit of constitutionalism both of which, Ms Gandhi said, are experiencing considerable duress under the present regime. Ms Gandhi’s concerns about this regression cannot be denied. Neither can the Congress’s courageous role in the freedom movement be effaced. A collective pledge to revive India’s fabric of inclusion on the part of the principal Opposition party is an honourable goal. But what Ms Gandhi chose to ignore in her speech is the absence of another kind of commitment: that of the Congressmen towards the party. Even the highest echelons of the Congress, it can be argued, are not immune to this inertia. Rahul Gandhi was conspicuous by his absence during the foundation day celebration. To be fair to Mr Gandhi, his record of attendance has never inspired confidence. He was on vacation when the Congress was fighting the elections in Bihar. His absence was also noted during the passage of the contentious farm bills. Then there is the perpetual dithering over resuming command of the party. This hide-and-seek routine has made it easier for Mr Gandhi’s detractors within and outside the Congress to allege that he is neither consistent nor committed when it comes to critical issues.
The crisis in leadership has serious ramifications not only for the Congress but also for India. A weak central leadership, coupled with the party’s political decline, has made it easier for Congress workers to cross the ideological barrier and embrace the Bharatiya Janata Party. Defections from the bottom and the top have cost the party a number of states in which it was in power. These defections are as much the result of the Congress’s internal schisms as personal ambition triumphing over ideological fidelity. These ugly warts have undermined the Congress’s electoral appeal further, preventing it from mobilizing public opinion on some of the monumental debacles committed by the BJP. An emaciated Congress has not demonstrated the requisite willingness or the energy to battle India’s discernible tilt towards polarization. Ms Gandhi’s clarion call — the fight for a secular, constitutional India — cannot be ignored. But the Congress needs to put its house in order if it hopes to take on this responsibility. The signs of either happening appear to be bleak at the moment.