Congress should forget Gandhi, take up Gandhigiri

After attempting every form of emotional “atyachar” to dissuade a recalcitrant Rahul Gandhi from resigning as Congress president, the party sycophants are now singing in chorus to install younger sibling Priyanka at the helm, in the faint hope that the surname would draw detractors and defectors back into the fold.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a leader of India's main opposition Congress party and sister of the party president Rahul Gandhi, waves to her supporters during a roadshow in Lucknow, India, February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

Many of these voices are coming from leaders whose claim to fame is their surname. That they should do so at a time where dynasty politics is facing rough weather across the country, be it in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab or Rajasthan, suggests the abject lack of fresh ideas within the Congress as it seeks to find new relevance with the voters.

The latest to join the chorus are Abhijit Mukherjee and Anil Shastri, sons of a former President and a former Prime Minister respectively. Thankfully, the latter’s son Adharsh Shastri decided to quit a high paying job with Apple Inc. to join public life, and preferred to align with the Aam Aadmi Party instead of joining the grand old one.

In their overwhelming belief that only a Gandhi surname could act as glue to various factions, these functionaries have totally ignored the loss of identity that India’s oldest political party has faced over the past five decades and more – to be precise from the time Indira Gandhi took over the reins after side-stepping several prominent leaders.

Opinion: Without a Gandhi, Congress is a Dead Duck

Gandhian principles and Nehruvian ideals are freely bandied around but the fact is that the Congress has ceded these to others. For example, Khadi was appropriated by a government department while other Gandhian organizations, like the Gandhi Peace Foundation, became the epicenter of anti-Congress movements in the past.

The birth centenary years of both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were marked by tokenism that included a few official functions, release of commemorative stamps and full-page advertisements exhorting readers to follow their ideals. Never did the party plan, let alone deliver, a grassroot-level reiteration of the Congress’s ideals that brought it to the forefront during India’s freedom struggle.

Today when the ruling BJP has appropriated India’s most powerful symbols such as tolerance, social justice, secularism and liberal democracy epitomized by leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Maulana Azad and even PV Narasimha Rao (for his role in opening up India’s economy), the party finds itself bereft of new ideas to connect with the grassroots level.

However, it would be wrong to lay the blame solely on Sonia Gandhi or her two children for the party’s current predicament. The fact remains that the Congress move from ideology to power broking began in the 1970s itself. Some of the symbols were also misused for electoral gains, especially the ones related to minority protection that morphed into appeasement.

While early predecessors of the BJP stuck with their Hindu Rashtra theories, Prime Minister Narendra Modi played his trump card by promoting Gandhian values such as Khadi and Swachh Bharat upon coming to power in 2014 and has now gone several steps ahead by asking his legislators to go on 150-km Padayatras to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation.

Congress too faces a question over intent

However, Congress leaders couldn’t care less that their iconic leader has crossed the aisle. Why would they, when they’re busy finding a leader who is malleable and also acceptable to the rank and file of the party. Given that Sonia Gandhi found it tough to handle the likes of Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri in the past, the sense of fear is hardly surprising.

Recently, Jyotiraditya Scindia made a pointed reference to the fact that it has been seven weeks (now eight) since Rahul Gandhi stepped aside. And till date there’s been no movement on finding a replacement or at least coming out with a process to find one. All because the party leaders don’t see eye-to-eye and therefore find it easy to support a Gandhi instead.

What’s more, there’s news coming in that the party is facing a financial crisis but with Rahul out of the equation, there seems to be a sense of ennui within the Congress

The problem is they’re looking up to the wrong Gandhi to save them from total annihilation. Since the BJP has now taken over the narrative around poverty and seems set to discard the anti-minority that it received, the Congress will have to find a new peg on which it can hang its story for the twenty-first century Indian.

Maybe, Mahatma Gandhi could help. That is, if the Congress can let go of the current crop of Gandhis and go after the original one.

If Munnabhai could make Gandhigiri work, why can’t the Congress party do so too?