A day before his assassination on January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi proposed in his ‘ last will and testament to dissolve the Congress Party and replace it with a Lok Sevak Sangh ( people’s service organization.) He said, “Congress in its present shape and form, as a propaganda vehicle and a parliamentary machine, has outlived its use.”
It was not as if the Mahatma wanted Congress to die. He stated, “The Congress has won political freedom, but it has yet to win economic freedom, social and moral freedom. These freedoms are harder than the political .”
These two paragraphs reveal the Gandhian thought about the Congress party’s future. He would not have visualized the party facing its present existential crisis. But times have changed, ideas have changed, and the country has changed since then. New forces have emerged. Congress, too, has undergone many changes.
A pan-national party like Congress certainly had its ups and downs. The latest crisis is senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad leaving the party. He was the Muslim face of Congress.
Azad had said in his blunt resignation letter to Sonia Gandhi three days ago, “Under your stewardship since 2014 and subsequently that of Rahul Gandhi, the Congress has lost two Lok Sabha elections in a humiliating manner. It has lost 39 out of the 49 assembly elections held between 2014 – 2022. The party only won four state elections and was able to get into a coalition situation in six instances. Unfortunately, today, Congress is ruling in only two states and is a very marginal coalition partner in two other states. ” This is what the party is today.
In short, the party is at its lowest ebb today compared to when Sonia Gandhi entered politics in 1998, brought the party to power in 2004, and ruled until 2014.
The exit of Azad is more than a wake-up call as he had been a congressman for more than five decades and had held several important posts, including the general secretary. PCC president, chief minister, minister at the centre holding various portfolios like Health, Parliamentary affairs, etc.
Azad has been leading the rebel group of 23 for the past two years. IN 2022, some senior leaders like Captain Amarendra Singh, Kapil Sibal, Hardik Patel, Ashwini Kumar, Sunil Jhakar, RPN Singh, Jaiveer Shergill, and Kuldeep Bishnoi quit the party for greener pastures.
Azad is not the first or last to leave Congress. Throughout the history of the Congress, many leaders have snapped ties with the Grand Old Party. Indira Gandhi split the party in 1969 and made a massive success. Some, like Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, and Jagan Mohan Reddy, had succeeded and become their respective states’ chief ministers. Others like Jagjivan Ram and Bishnoi of the Haryana Janhit Congress had no impact.
Azad has two options- One is to align with the other regional parties like National Conference and PDP. The other is to tie- up with the BJP. Most of those who quit Congress earlier joined the BJP.
It is a well-known secret that the BJP is looking for a strong leader in Jammu and Kashmir, and Azad fits the bill. He also has a good equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Gandhi family has to take responsibility for the present crisis. The options are few. Rahul Gandhi should quit if he is not keen on politics and let someone else lead the party. The schedule for electing the new president has been announced, and on September 19, the results will be notified. If a non-Gandhi is chosen, they would only be a rubber stamp. The family will have the remote control like Sonia Gandhi ran the show with Dr. Manmohan Singh in the driving seat for ten years during the UPA government. A non-Gandhi party chief would only be a loyalist.
Secondly, the Congress leadership should abandon the coterie culture. A few leaders in the party, like A.K. Antony, Digvijay Singh, Mallikarjun Kharge, and Anand Sharma, could be consulted.
Thirdly, address the concerns of the G 23 rebel group. It has already been weakened with the many members leaving or being pacified.
Fourthly, the party should fully concentrate on winning Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where the Congress still has some presence.
Fifthly, with coalition politics gaining ground Congress should find suitable allies and work for the opposition’s unity.
Sixthly, as long as Rahul is not leading from the front, Congress should not be adamant in fielding him as the prime Ministerial opposition candidate.
A political revival of the Congress may be difficult but not impossible. It still has a 20 percent vote share at the national level. All that is required is to go back to the basics, devise a core strategy, rework its plans, and above all, connect with the voters.