Reform or perish: All dynasties end. Rediscovering democracy can help Congress regroup, become relatable to Indians

The 23 senior Congress politicians who wrote to interim chief Sonia Gandhi demanding leadership change and internal democracy have predictably been cornered, with accusations of collusion with BJP thrown in. Sonia had reportedly offered to resign but the cacophonic refrain of loyal courtiers pleading with her to stay put, till Rahul Gandhi is ready again, carried the day. After two ignominious Lok Sabha defeats, marginalisation in several states, and failure to construct a cogent national political narrative, Congress’s perseverance with the Gandhi family is befuddling.

The logic of earlier years that the family stabilises the fissiparous Congress has unravelled. 2014 and 2019 are grim reminders that Congress has ceased to be a viable national political alternative. The Gandhis holding a rump outfit together may suit the last remaining influential regional chieftains like Ashok Gehlot, Amarinder Singh and Bhupesh Baghel whose voices will carry more weight. But it won’t help the party return to national reckoning, single-handedly or at the head of a coalition of like-minded, moribund regional outfits. Nothing in the past six years shows the Gandhis capable of dogged grassroots struggle or organisational genius that can revitalise Congress.

Having outlived their utility but not their clout in Congress a decent, astute course would require the Gandhis to completely step aside and let the party elect a new president. The president shouldn’t be reduced to a puppet or proxy, as this creates the convenient feedback loop for a Gandhi return. For fear of inviting dissidence against themselves Gehlot, Amarinder and Baghel can never speak against the “high command”. The charge that anyone criticising the Gandhis colludes with BJP is laughable. The status quo cements BJP’s dominance even as India needs a strong national opposition party, an absence tellingly felt in Parliament and in the polarising themes of this tumultuous period.

If Congress is serious about 2024, rebuilding cannot await another Rahul failure. Public perception believes the party works for the Gandhis, not vice versa. The orchestrated chorus of coteries reaffirming loyalties without broaching the party’s decline is juicy fodder for BJP’s powerful campaign machinery, that focusses on dynasty overtaking nationalism as Congress’s primary credo. But the 23 who finally stood up indicates that those with stymied ambitions won’t stay quiet. Their display of spine will serve Congress well.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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