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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Opinion | A revival plan for the Congress that would secure its future
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Opinion | A revival plan for the Congress that would secure its future

The party should become a hive of experimentation for new entrants to apply their energy and intellect to Indian politics

Rahul Gandhi now has an epochal chance which he should grab with both hands (Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times)Premium
Rahul Gandhi now has an epochal chance which he should grab with both hands (Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times)

It is trite to observe that crises are opportunities. What then should the Congress do with the crisis it confronts? In short, the party should be returned to the people from whence it came, namely, us citizens. The Congress party is our collective patrimony, our freedom’s chariot, and we would very much like to have it back. In our hands, we will transform it into an engine of national reinvention.

Rahul Gandhi now has an epochal chance which he should grab with both hands. He should completely clean out the old guard and make the Congress a paragon of meritocracy and hard work by throwing it open to talent. Failure to do so could consign the party to oblivion.

Gandhi might want to consider kicking himself upstairs, where he would remain an inspiration. From there, he can declare that positions at every level in the party are open to people from all walks of life. You can start at the panchayat level and make it to prime ministership: That should be the solemn promise of the Congress. “Panchayat to PM" is what a young aspiring leader wants to hear.

Let the party itself be a mechanism of social mobility. Gandhi’s role would be not so much as a leader, but as facilitator-in-chief, the unimpeachable guarantor of a process that ensures the upward mobility of talent and energy.

Ironically, there is another political party that combines capillary and apex at continental scale: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As political scientist and venture capitalist Eric X. Li has observed, the CCP functions as a “giant human resource engine" funnelling worthy workers up through a “rotating pyramid" of ever-increasing responsibilities that start at the clerk level and end at the top table. Local policy experiments are encouraged and successful models replicated nationally. Without elections, the only means of legitimacy is actual performance. Patronage, corruption and repression are factors, but for the most part, those at the top have had decades of experience in a variety of positions of substantial responsibility. The result is competence, delivering an often-brutal legitimacy of outcomes rather than the more turgid legitimacy of electoral processes.

In a revolutionized Congress party, the metric of success would have to be simple and objective: not only winning elections at any level, but using one’s elected office to improve the life chances of constituents. No matter what your background, performance must be rewarded: This principle needs to be etched in stone. Gandhi needs to use all his clout, plus the fear of electoral oblivion, to guarantee the pairing of performance based on objective measures with upward mobility in the party.

There is, of course, precious irony in a dynast functioning as a guarantor of upward mobility, but if there is a redemptive role for the still-weighty Nehru-Gandhi lineage, surely this is it.

If such a guarantee were credible, ordinary people would not only flock to the Congress, but would generously crowd-fund this new model of politics. India is teeming with bright, energetic people from all walks of life who crave to serve the public good, but with no political home. The Congress party should make itself their natural home.

Party workers would have to be paid well so that participation expands beyond the privileged. Women and those from underprivileged backgrounds ought to be given disproportionate emoluments with a number of positions reserved for them, coupled with considerable mentorship to allow their talent to shine through. The party itself should become a model of transparency with regular, publicly-audited accounts.

By such a method, the Congress party would become a thrumming hive of experimentation at every level, as new entrants apply their energy and intellect to our nation’s politics. The party must become the forcing-house of what Roberto Unger calls a “high-energy democracy" in which experimentation is encouraged and rewarded. Only a persistent flourishing of policy experiments followed by a ruthless winnowing out of failed experiments will break the grip of the dictatorship of no alternatives.

It might appear as if we suffer from a lack of alternatives; in fact, all we suffer from is a lack of imagination. What we need is an organization that expands the imagination in our politics. This is why an ethic of experimentalism is absolutely vital: It acts as a solvent on the dogmas of both Left and Right, leading instead to pragmatic, context-based solutions.

The first thing we must re-imagine is the present moment as a call to arms for a new kind of politics and a new kind of political party at national scale, one whose very institutional grammar will generate new ideas for our myriad national crises. We know we need new ideas because all the prognostications of the dominant national party have amounted to very little in real terms.

This is not surprising. The nature and scale of our problems are such that no political party can come up with a credible, top-down blueprint for India sitting in Delhi. Notwithstanding its defeat, the Congress is still best-placed to become the institutional means by which such blueprints are invented and updated through an iterative process of experimentation in local contexts across our continent-sized country.

Only then will the party become the motor of ceaseless re-invention of Indian society itself, unlocking the Promethean potential of our people trapped in the putrefying social structures of caste and creed.

If the Congress passes up this opportunity to reinvent itself, then other social forces must come together to forge a new national party that can bear the burden of this moment. The people of India deserve a national party that can generate a real revolution. If the Congress demurs, we the people should not.

These are the author’s personal views. Anush Kapadia is on the faculty of IIT Bombay in the humanities and social sciences department

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Published: 05 Jun 2019, 11:08 PM IST
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