Between loyalty & talent, the Congress has made its choice

Shishir Vinay Bhate
·Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo India
·4-min read

What should be more important to an organisation: loyalty or talent?

That depends on whether you are an ambitious unit or the Congress party.

Congress has always rewarded loyalty, or rather its timeworn definition of what it perceives as loyalty: blind obedience. Talent has often had to play second fiddle.

Talent craves freedom and leadership’s support to flourish. It can be brash, even rebellious, but attempts to shackle it lead to it flying away. The Congress, which governed India for almost 55 years of the nation’s 73-year-long independent existence, has of late experienced an exodus, a brain drain.

Several leaders, big and small, are quitting the party, and not just because it has lost several elections in the last few years. They are dumping the Congress not because they are disloyal or have a lust for power. There is a common thread running through the narrative each Congress leader who quit the party has proffered: the party ‘high command’ does not pay enough attention to them or their ideas, while hackneyed suggestions seem to find favour.

They find this insulting and seek out other pastures where they are valued.

There are many such cases: Himanta Biswa Sarma, YS Jaganmohan Reddy, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot... If one reads the leaves in the tea cup, it seems several others are waiting in the wings, impatient, edgy and ready to jump ship.

The ‘talent versus loyalty’ debate has been a long-running one, but successful institutions have begun to lean in favour of talent.

Young, talented Congressmen see loyalty as a fig leaf behind which many from the ‘old guard’ hide.

The veterans think being loyal shields them from having to raise uncomfortable questions and thus provide better alternatives, it saves them the ‘trouble’ of having to overcome inertia to help improve the fortunes of a defeated unit. To them, proximity to the Gandhis is enough.

The Young Turks see this form of ‘loyalty’ as a lazy excuse, where personal interests take precedence over the party’s. To them, loyalty means to contribute to the growth and success of the Congress. It means more than just the amount of time one has spent in the party: it means being smart and bold enough to call out a problem and help find a solution.

The Congress, however, has made up its mind. For it, loyalty to the leadership seems more important than anything else. And while the youngsters get orders from the party high command, their conscience is still their own.

Unfortunately, this expression of the inner voice and the anguished cry to want to help turn the party’s fortunes around are looked upon as indiscipline. While lack of discipline cannot be rewarded, leadership lies in finding out the root cause of such behaviour and addressing it before things get out of hand.

The Congress can ill-afford to ignore these signs of unease amongst its emerging and existing talent pool.

The party’s image has taken a severe beating: it has almost been wiped out electorally and, since it refuses to learn from its mistakes, the perception that has gained ground is that it will take ages before it can pose a real challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which does not suffer from any leadership issues.

The Congress might be making the mistake of thinking that aggressive, outspoken youngsters cannot be loyal. Ideally, the party shouldn’t be picking one over the other: it has to be a judicious combination of, both, aptitude and faithfulness.

But by not recognising and rewarding talent, the Congress is shooting itself in the foot, as this undermines the interests of leaders who can contribute immensely, demotivates the fresh crop of leaders, and leads to sub-standard results for the party.

By not allowing youngsters to flourish, the Congress leadership has only betrayed its insecurities.

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