All genuine Congressmen and women desiring the good of this grand party will at such critical times necessarily give constructive suggestions. Yet, constructive suggestions might well be seen as critical, especially by mischief-makers and troubleshooters who criticise such suggestions and try to paint a negative picture about them and those who make them. But genuine wellwishers of the party cannot be deterred by such mischief-makers.
We must start with the realisation that the Congress is indeed not only the oldest, consistently functioning political party in the country but at each time it touched its nadir, and this is one of those times, it continues to retain a mass following in every nook and cranny of the country. That is not negated by merely looking at the few numbers we have in the Lok Sabha. There are generations of families that can think of nothing else except the Congress. There are a large number of people who may not have voted for the Congress but are wedded to the ideals and the values for which the Congress stands and who lament that the Congress should revive itself into an efficient fighting machine to come close to fulfilling those ideals.
Second, one must note the fact that every new dispensation is not only entitled to but, in fact, does enjoy a nine-month or one-year honeymoon period and an additional six-month grace period. It is therefore vital for the Congress, on the external front, to connect and reconnect to the masses at the grassroots during this one or one-and-a-half-year period in a focussed manner. It is this connection and reconnection and a re-establishment of this connection that is ultimately going to be the Congress’ strength.
Internally, during this period, it must simultaneously fundamentally restructure, rejuvenate, revitalise and reform itself; not so much in an always attacking mode against the government but so as to have a rejuvenated and strengthened party apparatus to be able to receive, consolidate and build upon the antiincumbency, which will inevitably grow against the government in a few months. For us to be in that position, we have to do internal reform and be ready when the time comes.
Third, a bedrock of that reform is to not only make the Congress strong at the each tehsil and district level but to build up in each and every state at least one or two oratorical leaders. They may be new or senior Congressmen, they may be young or old, but such leaders must possess a near mesmeric power of oratory at the state level. We have several such persons, many unknown and unsung heroes; we have to not only identify them but give them an absolute freehand for at least two years.
It is true of every party as it is of the Congress that when such elements are promoted, there will be pockets of insecurity, jealousy and opposition among different leaders from the relevant states from where each of these persons is promoted. Such opposition is natural in every party. It should not deter the buildup of such persons.
An oft-stated, misleading proposition to the effect that building up strong state satraps is a threat to the central Congress is a myth that must be exploded sooner rather than later. From the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the Congress has grown into a vast, strong organisational network on the backs of, and the persona of, leaders such as Mohan Lal Sukhadia from my home state of Rajasthan, K Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu, Yashwantrao Chavan in Maharashtra and Partap Singh Kairon in Punjab. They are necessarily dependent on the Congress because they are its representatives and the Congress is necessarily reciprocally dependent on them. It is a partnership of mutual benefit and not of perceived mutual threat as some of the mischief-makers try and project.
Such good public-speaking, oratorical state leadership will, in due course of time, be able to effectively attack both Narendra Modi and the BJP in a manner and at levels that it is not always possible for central leaders to do.
Fourth, the Congress needs to have a far better mix of pure merit with regional, caste and community balances. It is ivory-towerish to suggest a political system absolutely free from geographical, caste or community considerations. But it is entirely possible to have an informal 33, 45 or 50 percent merit quota, where none of these considerations matter, while the remaining 50 or 60 percent is utilised to balance or harmonise caste, community and geographical considerations. Unfortunately, the aforesaid inter se ratios have sometimes become too skewed and need a clear recalibration in favour of merit and performance.
Fifth, access not only of the top leadership but of the second line central leadership in general both to the media and to the Congress party workers should be considerably increased. Some system has to be devised where even the hangers-on and the time-wasters are accommodated for a short period of time on a particular day of the week. Apart from the intra-Congress access, media interaction and media access should also proportionately increase. Whether we like it or not, in today’s 24×7 media world, silence is sometimes the greatest distorter of truth.
Sixth, there has to be a change not only in the wine, not only in the bottle but also in the label. All three have to change and while some of the change may merely be interchange, some of it has to be absolutely new. This point about personnel change links with my earlier point about merit and non-merit quota. Far too often we have seen that human failures on one front or in one state or in one project are rewarded by a mere interchange to a new front. That must change, though with a fair admixture of experience with merit and performance.
I think too much is made by mischief-makers about the issue of change in the top leadership. They forget that it is the Congress party that had elections fought against the present Congress president by both Jitendra Prasada and Rajesh Pilot. Even the BJP, which tom-toms this issue, has nominations for the party head but never an election, at least not in recent political history or memory. We have always marvelled at the magnanimity of Sonia Gandhi who has never shown pettiness or smallness of heart in dealing with such constructive electoral adversaries and the Congress history post such Prasada/Pilot elections is also testimony to this fact.
One must not forget that every political party needs a binding force, a cementing element. The ultimate object or end is not a leadership change in itself. It can, at best, be only a means to an end, the end being a strong, united political party. This constant invocation of change of leadership issues will weaken the party and make it rudderless, disunited, fractured and fragmented and that is the last thing any sensible Congressman should want at this hour.
That does not mean that anybody is suggesting, least of all the Gandhis, that there would be a perpetual or eternal nochange at the top leadership. I have personally, and not entirely in jest, submitted to Sonia Gandhi that she is perhaps too democratic by temperament and that I wish she was a little more dictatorial!
The views expressed here are personal