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A Boat that has Capsized but that Refuses to Admit

Bikash Sarmah
(bksarmah07@rediffmail.com)

The Congress vacuum needs to be filled up with people who have ideas that jell with the imperatives of the day

The Karnataka election results have yet again brought to the fore the preposterousness of the Congress’ argument that it is not a spent force. That the Congress in that State is down by 43 seats while the BJP has moved up by 65 seats, is enough for even the man on the street to infer that the electorate of that State have chosen not to mandate the Congress to preside over their destiny. The vote share of the BJP, too, is higher than that of the Congress.
Though it was a State election in the South, the ramifications are pan-Indian, given the nearness of Election 2019 that will either prove or disprove the apparent invincibility of the Prime Minister – and, of course, that of Amit Shah’s leadership and acceptability across the country, Northeast India included.

The campaign in Karnataka was a high-decibel one but not unique because the same vitriol – with accusations and counter-accusations in unacceptable language from both sides, the Congress and the BJP, sullying the whole ambience – was witnessed in the run-up to the Gujarat polls in which the political personality of Modi, and his ‘secular’ and ‘inclusive’ credentials, were being tested as Rahul Gandhi toured the State at his zealous best asking the voters to show Modi his rightful place, mainly pointing to demonetization and agricultural slowdown. Therefore, the pre-poll theatre in Karnataka did not come as any surprise.

It was a prestige issue for the newly elected Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, who the party says is its ‘young, dynamic and modern’ avatar well introduced to the aspirations of the youth, and who has the necessary vision to take the country forward. Despite most of the exit polls predicting the BJP’s triumph, and hence Modi’s acceptability as a leader who has it in him to revolutionize the old and scorned idea of India, the Congress, along with its votaries in a section of the media too, did not lose any time to dismiss the prediction as biased, capricious, and stupid too.
But the voters’ behaviour was different. They were not prepared to buy the marketing enterprise of Rahul Gandhi, nor of apparently powerful satraps in that State. That the BJP could manage to emerge as the single largest party despite Rahul’s spirited – and vituperative – campaign against Modi far more than the party the Prime Minister belongs to, and despite his best efforts to unveil Modi’s ‘pro-industrialist’ and ‘anti-farmer’ attitude and action, reflects only on the expanse of the saffron party in the South as opposed to the common perception that it is a formation meant only for the North. Add to this its spectacular performance in the Northeast, Assam and Tripura in particular, apart from Manipur, which went on to reflect on its acceptability in the far-flung tribal areas of the country as well.

Let us not talk about the Congress’ desperate attempt to hold on to power in Karnataka this time despite being rejected in clear terms by the electorate; it did not strike the party that it had come down to 78 from 121 seats despite the so-called ‘young and dynamic’ Rahul factor. Let us also not talk about the resort politics that the party indulged in last Wednesday as it herded its MLAs at a posh resort in Bengaluru, fearing defection. Let us in short rather talk about what actually ails the Congress.

It is a top-bottom problem. The crux is the top leadership – Rahul Gandhi. Apart from the fact that his elevation as party president was a disgraceful commentary on the lack of democratization in the country’s oldest political formation with everybody in the party rallying around him just because he belongs to the indispensable dynasty – this indispensability arising out of the party’s own serious and virtually irreparable faultlines – Rahul is also emblematic of old and obscurantist ideas that the party’s old guard would still construe as modernist because they suffer from an intrinsic inability to change with time or even to change their politics of rhetoric and gimmickry in the absence of solid ideas that can work in the changed circumstances.

Rahul, at the top in the party due solely to his accident of birth, and not due to his merit that he has yet to prove before the nation, is still in the failing business of ‘secularism’ expediency and ‘poverty and backwardness’ populism – believed to be USPs (unique selling points) by his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, too as she went around the country with her pompous garibi hatao rhetoric only for the country to experience further cycles of poverty and backwardness. In the age of free-market dynamics, with the world becoming increasingly globalized and digitalized, the populism politics that Rahul has chosen, despite him having become a butt of ridicule right among the very youth constituency that he seeks to address, will only make the Congress boat of idiosyncrasies – ideas and visions that have gone past their expiry dates – sink further in the morass of a failed ideology that the youth of the country are not prepared to buy.

The Congress boat that has capsized will require a rescuer far more evolved – politically and intellectually – than Rahul Gandhi, who, unfortunately, is overdependent on his scriptwriters and advisers, who, on their part, have blissfully chosen to bask in the bizarre glory of sycophancy rather than in the reality of the day.

In the first place, rather than Rahul – who is party chief due solely to a weird sense of entitlement perpetuated by his own party that does not have the gumption to tell him he should quit because he has failed miserably – it is leaders with political sense and acumen, and with political intellectualism that has been tested, such as P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma, apart from the young, brilliant and eloquent likes of Manish Tiwari and Sachin Pilot, who might have brought some smile to party men.

Secondly, the Congress leadership, across the States of the country, has failed to evolve any meaningful and tangible framework within which the party can hammer out solutions to the most pressing problems of the day. Take the case of Rs 1,000-note ban. What better option would the Congress have at the time of currency ban in order to launch a sustained assault on the expanding architecture of corruption? At the time of demonetization, what was stopping the Congress leadership from spelling out a better alternative? Again, for instance, what more meaningful, pragmatic and sustainable formula does the Congress have to overhaul the higher education scenario of the country – a domain that is crucial to the making of a knowledge economy and that can consolidate the youth constituency far more meaningfully, given especially the increasing unemployment rate and the disconcerting fact of unemployability because the education system remains mired in stagnancy and obscurantism?

And thirdly, when it comes to a vast and diverse ethno-political and economic expanse as Northeast India – yet embroiled in issues ranging from socio-political turmoils to economic backwardness to the demographic aggression on it by illegal Bangladeshis – the Congress leadership, eminent so far for a perverse brand of vote-bank politics, has yet to wake up and see the writing on the wall. Or is it that it suffers from a malaise peculiar to its obstinate refusal to accept its degeneration in the absence of intelligent thought processes? The boat that has capsized can still be rescued. But the Congress vacuum needs to be filled up with people who have ideas that jell with the imperatives of the day. Rahul Gandhi & Co becomes a case of obscurantism then. It is highly unfortunate and undesirable that the country’s oldest political party grapples as an enfeebled opposition with the pitfalls of its own making.

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Ankur Kalita