Fond hopes and optimism are usual for political dynasts. Rahul Gandhi is no different. On a “discover India” trip in Orissa, he said he had ideas to overhaul the Congress party. His father, Rajiv Gandhi, had similar ideas some 23 years ago when he attacked the power brokers in his party during a speech in Mumbai. Rahul Gandhi was prudent enough to say that he did not have a magic wand for the task.
Rahul Gandhi said internal democracy in the Congress would bridge the gap between citizens and politicians and help the common man join politics.
There are two ways to look at what he said. For cynics, it can be nothing but the naivete of the scion. Unfamiliar with the rough and tumble of Indian politics, such utterances can at best represent pious hopes, at worst an unabashed effort to woo the electorate. For critics, his remarks are in line with his comment on the “achievement” of the Nehru- Gandhis in breaking up Pakistan in 1971.
If it’s an effort to widen the Congress party’s appeal to a larger section of citizens, it’s no less problematic. Even if his call to overcome the lal batti (red beacon) culture is taken seriously, where is the political space to implement the idea? What about the legacy of unfulfilled promises to cleanse the party? He also forgot centralization of decision-making in the party.
India is no longer the country of big, monolithic parties. The landscape is littered with regional parties. The Congress-led coalition at the Centre depends on these parties for survival. The party’s revival would mean supplanting these parties in their strongholds. More than that, reviving the party requires steps such as holding internal elections, something that has either threatened the existing power equations (as in Rajiv Gandhi’s time) or has been farcical (as during P.V. Narasimha Rao’s time).
At the moment, the party is nearing the end of the political cycle that began with the general election in May 2004. Party managers are too shrewd to indulge in fundamental reorganization of the Congress when elections are just a year away. Such changes, usually, are ruminated upon when out of power.
That brings us close to the cynical end of the argument. Past efforts to clean the stables have not been successful. The fact is that in its day-to-day existence, the Congress is an oligarchy that is not about to change anytime soon.
Can Rahul Gandhi make the Congress internally democratic? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org