Young versus Old? The Truth About The Congress Crisis

Churning has begun in the Congress and disruption is going on and it is bound to result in a change which hopefully would resurrect the party again to take on the hegemony of the BJP that is threatening to destroy democracy and turn the country into a majoritarian polity sending minorities and dissent to margins of the polity.

Dr Satish Misra

Ongoing crisis in country’s oldest party is that of directionless energy making the organization go haywire turning the heated and animated rounds of discussion being labelled into young versus old or old versus young.

Media and so called expert and experienced commentators are seeking answers from the Congress whose ship is drifting in absence of a leader who can lead from the front making the party fit to take on the ruling BJP that has failed on all possible fronts barring retention of power at all cost employing all foul and fair means.

At the same time in the absence of credible answers, these experts, since they must fill column spaces in the media and must participate in TV debates, are groping in the dark avenues of history of the 135 years old party to find parallels to explain to their readers and viewers the meaning of the drift in the Congress for the country’s political system.

Majority of writers are saying that it is a conflict or an internecine war between the young leaders representing Rahul Gandhi versus a bunch of old leaders who enjoy interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s confidence or are loyal to her. Problem with the majority of writers, analysts and political scientists, who are desperately looking for quick fix explanations for the ongoing debate within the Congress that found expression in the last meeting of Sonia Gandhi with senior leaders and members of the upper house of parliament, is that they are trapped in the dynastic syndrome that is foreign or alien to thousand years of civilizational practices and patterns of way of life. Alien understanding blinds the vision and understanding of these so-called experts.

Dynasty debate of which the Congress is picked up for blame game is futile as dynastic considerations play significant role in all walks of Indian life. No profession or no single family, one can find where parentage and lineage does not matter. Even in the poorest or lowliest of the cast structures, one would find dynastic considerations playing a role. Surprisingly, these experts don’t find evidence of dynastic patterns anywhere else either in any other political party or other professional outfits where numerous examples exist. The Congress being the easiest target comes to them as a ready reckoner to them blaming all ills of the country to Nehru-Gandhi family.

In reality, the prevailing situation within the party is totally different as is entirely new and precisely that is why it is defying logic that is based on past patterns. No two crisis are same and they can’t be either. The Congress has faced many a crisis in its long years of existence as debate and dissent have been part of it as it is in all democratic set-ups and organizations.

In pre-independence days, there used to be ‘Naram Dal versus Garam Dal’ or Traditionalists versus Socialists. Since the Congress was not a political party in the classical sense as it was more of a movement that accommodated many a view and many ideologies and developed a -co-existential framework to move forward during a time when enemy was common and that was British colonialism or alien rule.

In post independent India, one of the earliest contradictions was manifested when differences cropped up whether President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad should go to inaugurate the Somnath temple that had been reconstructed from public donations or not? First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was opposed to Dr Prasad going for the inauguration and he tried to even dissuade the President from going there but the latter overruled the Prime Minister saying that he would do “the same with a mosque or a church if I were invited…. This is the core of Indian secularism. Our state is neither irreligious nor anti-religious”.

Financed by public contributions, project Somnath temple reconstruction was supervised by a Union cabinet minister-first by Sardar Patel and then by Dr K M Munshi. Such was the debate when other view and dissent could be accommodated and was not allowed to turn into a discord.

In later years after the death of Nehru and his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri, the Congress witnessed splits as old leaders called old guards wanted to keep power confined to them wanting to reduce the prime minister to a mere “puppet” or a “Gudiya” a doll to dance at their tunes. Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister, outmaneuvered the old guards and making the Congress dance at her tunes. She led the party to victories and even a defeat in 1977 but remained at its helm till her violent death in 1984. Thereafter, the Congress became more of a party where majority of its leaders were such because of power and not for ideological commitments slowly but surely taking the party where lineage mattered more. These were post Rajiv Gandhi assassination days when P V Narasimha Rao became the prime minister and then the party again looked back to a Nehru-Gandhi scion to lead it. The party saw 10 years of power and did precious little to strengthen its ideological commitments or clear its corrupting though process and cobwebs.

It is often said and written that a set of young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot were followers or adherents of Rahul Gandhi but in fact this is far from facts. These two leaders and some others, who have either left the party or are waiting in the wings to do, were promoted by Sonia Gandhi and they were given the chance because their father had untimely deaths in tragic accidents. Rahul Gandhi inherited them as they were neither his discoveries nor his proteges.

Yet their drifting apart from the Congress is being attributed to the failure of Rahul. Both Scindia and Pilot to name the few like him are rank opportunists who lack any ideological commitment and are blindly pursuing power. In their pursuit of power, they are far closer to the new BJP that has emerged under the duo leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

It must be said to the credit of Rahul Gandhi that when he assumed the chare of the party upon becoming its chief, he did not discredit the old and experienced leaders and sought to combine experience with energy as was seen in the composition of the party’s working committee. He brought some elements and sought to develop a leadership on the principle of meritocracy. He picked up some young leaders from grassroots but there were already some young leaders like Scindia, Pilot, Miland Deora, Jitin Prasad, Manish Tiwari, Priya Dutt and many others who were already in the party being sons and daughters of old and diseased leaders. Rahul took them along and they chose to align with him in the hope that the party would retain political power under him and they would be the beneficiaries but alas it did not happen as the party lost badly in 2019 under young Rahul leadership dashing their hopes to ground.

Rahul resigned promising to remain away from the party’s affairs but neither the set of old leaders nor the young leaders could agree among themselves to evolve an alternate plan or a progamme of action so that new structure could take over the party affairs. Old leaders fell back on Sonia Gandhi asking her to be the interim president and young leaders remained clueless as they had neither the experience for this kind of crisis nor they had any ideological grooming since they had inherited their positions because of their lineage.

Churning has begun in the Congress and disruption is going on and it is bound to result in a change which hopefully would resurrect the party again to take on the hegemony of the BJP that is threatening to destroy democracy and turn the country into a majoritarian polity sending minorities and dissent to margins of the polity.

(Dr Misra is an author, researcher and senior journalist)

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