A 5-point blueprint for the Congress - Part 3

Sanjay Jha
National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress party

Rahul Gandhi’s abrupt resignation as Congress president taking moral responsibility for the Lok Sabha defeat has thrown the Congress party in a palpable swelter.

Not many politicians worldwide have demonstrated such an intrepid moral character amid difficult odds. As the CWC contemplates the process for selecting or electing a new leader (an unenviable task, let me assure you) perhaps it is time the Congress made some drastic changes going forward.

3) Congress president must have a term of 3 years

Organisations grow when leaders create new leaders, not merely humble passive followers. That can lead to a stasis and thwart the emergence of new talent.

It is time to amend the AICC constitution and fix the term of Congress president for a maximum period of three years, with no automatic renewals that continue indefinitely. At most, an extension of another three years can be permitted if that is a unanimous decision.

In short, no one individual can head the party beyond a six-year tenure. Theoretically, therefore over a 30-year period the Congress party will have a minimum of 5 Congress presidents or 10 leaders who will have shepherded the party, each bringing in their own distinctive style of leadership.

This will also stop in the blocks the criticism of dynastic political leadership in the Congress as the system itself will have intrinsic proscriptions against it. There will be the usual naysayers who will predict doomsday on account of internal bickering, but the fact is that positive competition and an equal opportunity to hold the exalted position will unleash buoyancy within the party.

Every politician nurses a secret desire to be the numero uno at some stage; now they will have the platform to prove themselves.

4) Congress could adopt the retail funding route

Post-Independence, India’s most unabashed financial scam is the electoral bonds scheme floated by the solipsistic BJP.

It allows unscrupulous donors to keep their identity anonymous while the political party amasses huge sums (the BJP has got a whopping 95% of the funds under the scheme), a lot of which could be unaccounted cash or black money.

Because political parties do not come under the Right to Information Act (RTI) there is no compelling pressure to make disclosure of campaign financing being done by Big Business.

A dubious quid pro quo exists which is the genesis of crony capitalism and corporate impropriety. Some estimates suggest that approximately $8 billion was spent in the 2019 general elections of India; clearly a bulk of it was slush monies and we all know which party was advertised all over the idiot box, digital screens, billboards and full page ads in mainstream newspapers.

This amount is even higher than what was spent in the American presidential elections of 2016. The disproportionate mix in election spending creates a lopsided imbalance, and is deleterious to democracy. It must be neutered.

The Congress party must adopt the retail funding route by raising small sums from individuals, families, businessmen, shopkeepers, traders, farmers, et cetera. This was once the traditional fund-raising mechanism of the party; it consolidates public outreach, pushes political messaging and builds voter relationships.

With the advent of modern technology setting up a foolproof payment system is now really easy. The source of big ticket graft is usually the politician-industrialist unholy nexus built on mutually convenient deals. Retail mobilisation will reduce dependence on those institutional donors whose election funding is quintessentially a kickback for future favours.

The Congress party can also pursue corporate benefactors but make the contribution details public; this will either force the BJP to do the same which will expose its suspect transactions with the donors, its refusal to do so would make the people realize the suspicious nature of its treasury.

Sunlight is the best antiseptic, thus the Congress party must take transparency to another level altogether.

5) Congress can appoint a powerful shadow cabinet

While the BJP may have got a huge majority in the Lok Sabha, as National Democratic Alliance-2 showed that is no assurance of exemplary governance.

Within weeks of NDA-3 assuming charge, India seems to be headed for a major economic slowdown, segregationist nationalism has found new loudspeakers, lynching deaths have become commonplace and institutional corrosiveness has accelerated further, the dilution of the RTI Act being the best example.

Keeping an authoritarian government in check is crucial to India’s future and its constitutional democracy.

The Congress can appoint Shadow Ministers for key portfolios such as Home, Foreign Affairs, Defense, Finance, Agriculture, HRD, Environment, Industry and Commerce, etc.

This will project the outstanding expertise of the party, demonstrate its collective team capabilities and provide the public perspective on policy issues. It will be like an alternative government-in-waiting that will also be a vanguard against any covert fascist predilections of the government.

India has become an illiberal democracy and the Opposition has a tough task ahead from preventing further despoliation of civil liberties and fundamental rights.

Of course, there are several other initiatives for transformation that have to be concurrently effectuated; creating a cadre-based party, training, leadership development, talent scouting, Big Data, communication strategy, social media penetration, etc.

But if the Big 5 ideas above are incorporated, the Congress can quickly rediscover its mojo. With several state elections coming up in October, the party will be tested soon.

The first step to a quick resuscitation is to acknowledge that there is a problem. But problems can be fixed. A friend who sheepishly confessed to me that he voted for the BJP also told me: “But honestly, I did it with a heavy heart.” We must remember that there are no permanent winners or losers in politics.

Congress-Mukt Bharat may get Mr Modi a raucous response from his minions but the Congress cannot be deracinated. Ever.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going goes the gnomic expression. Perhaps, it is time for the Congress party to have another tryst with destiny.