Instead of developing a second line of leadership, the Congress Party has fallen back on old guards to revive its fortune in Uttar Pradesh; an experiment that has the potential to go horribly wrong, reports Rajendra Kumar from Lucknow
The pedigree of a doctor is immaterial when it comes to treatment of a patient. Equally useless is to look for the pedigree of his fore fathers. The thing to care for is whether or not the doctor has successfully diagnosed the disease. If the answer is no, you are in for the trouble. No amount of medicine or the treatment can cure the patient. Although the metaphor might not be entirely suitable to use, but the condition of Indian National Congress, the oldest party of the country, is similar in Uttar Pradesh. In spite of some of the best brains involved in its treatment, the diagnosis phase has not gone down well. This is probably why, while other parties are looking up at the future, Congress is delving into its past to look for solutions. Its chief strategist, Prashant Kishore, popularly called PK, is all set to take a jump in the great game on the pedigree of overage leaders. The contrast could not have been starker. While Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and even Nitish Kumar led JD (U) are banking onthis occasion to launch their next line of leadership, Congress has paraded people who can atthe best be called old. Anything but young. The list, of course, is being led by ex-Chief Minister of Delhi Sheila Dixit. Others in thebandwagon include the likes of Ghulam Nabi Azad, actor Raj Babbar, Dr Sanjay Singh, Pramod Tiwari, Mohsina Kidwai, P L Punia, Nirmal Khatri, Shri Prakash Jaiswal, Salman Khursheed, Zafar Ali Naqvi, Saleem Sherwani, Rajiv Shukla, Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Pradeep Mathur. These are the leaders who have been tasked to score victory for the party in the
Upcoming assembly elections. It is not a coincidence that every single one of them is above60. If that is not enough, 78 years old Sheila Dixit, who has been made the Chief Ministerial candidate, has been out of active politics of Uttar Pradesh for over two decades now. In these two decades, while she was Chief Minister of Delhi, she was even heard calling migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as a “burden.” It is understood that the party high command has acted on the advice of Prashant Kishore in declaring her the candidate. As far as Sheila Dixit is concerned, she can be termed as a suave, dependable and pleasant leader. However, Congress’ decision to play up her daughter-in-law connection with Uttar Pradesh has not gone down really well with the rank and file of the party in the state. Cadres are heard complaining that the decision tohoist her upon the state leadership was done on the advice of Prashant Kishore, ignoring the sentiments of the cadres. This, cadres say, might backfire for the party. Cadres really wanted Priyanka Gandhi to be projected as the Chief Ministerial face, but will now have to make do with Sheila Dixit. Naturally, theyare peeved. A section of them also maintain that even if Kishore’s idea of projecting a Brahmin face had to be accommodated, the party should have gone for a Brahmin face from inside the state leadership. Promoting a young face keeping in mind the long-term politics would also have given strength to the morale of the workers. Congress spokes person Amarnath maintains that Sheila Dixit has been out of touch with the state politics for many years now. She used to come as star-campaigner in the past, but failed to connect with the Brahmin voters. As far as Brahmin leaders from the party are concerned, they are worried that the dock is being cleared for her son Sandeep Dixit. The only good decision by the party was to make Ghulam Nabi Azad the incharge for the state.The primary strategy planned by Kishore is to attract Brahmin, Muslim and Dalit votes back to Congress. And it is because of this that Dixit, Babbar and Azad combo has been put forward, although people are questioning the timing. Barring Babbar, all other leaders are old timers in the party and it is perplexing that the party took so long to project them. And why only these leaders, the entire state has-been ignored by the leadership for a very longtime now. It is late now. Almost two decades too late. And whatever little change that has been ushered is being credited to Kishore. This begs the question, what exactly has happened to the party? Why does it need hired specialists to tell it things that it should have figured out by its own? Clearly, there’s more than what meets the eye.
It is the walls that tell the story of the decline of Congress in UP. The party has neglected this state for way too long. That, when the state sends the most number of MPs and has been a bastion of the Nehru-Gandhi family. State in-charge Azad mentions that he has been given the charge of the state three times in the past as well. He was first sent to UP in 1987 by Rajiv Gandhi. This was the time when V P Singh, Arun Nehru and Arif Mohammad Khan had deserted the party on one pretext or the other. The decline had just set in then. It has reached its nadir now. But then, one can only rise after hitting rock bottom. Now the question is, will the team led by the Dixit-Babbar-Azad troika manage to give a new lease of life to the party? Azad says, “I have chalked out a strategy and under this, three steps are important. First, to strengthen the organization by uniting the factions. Second, to create an environment which is conducive for us, and third, to emerge as an alternative for the voters of UP who are willing to rise above caste lines to vote in the elections, but are also very wary of BJP.” There is merit in his reasoning. How successful will Azad be in his Endeavour is anyone’s guess, but it must be mentioned that Kishore is doing away with lots of misconception that the party had about itself in the state. He is not only formulating the campaign strategy on which the party will fight the next elections, but is also involved in the restructuring and strengthening the organization And this entire exercise is being done under the guidance of Rahul Gandhi. In fact, appealing to its traditional vote bank of Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits is part of the same game plan. This is something which has been clearly conveyed to both Rahul and Sonia and both of them have reportedly agreed to this. It is also being indicated that Priyanka Gandhi will be majorly involved during the campaign. This is also to relieve the burden from the shoulders of Sonia and Rahul. But detractors don’t think highly of this. Senior journalist and analyst Anshuman Shukla says, “Azad and Dixit are outsiders and past their prime. They will only further drag the party towards oblivion. What strategy do you think are they capable of?”Several analysts have maintained that it would have been better for the future of the party had it given the stage to the next line of leadership. This platform would have benefitted them as well as the party. Platform brings recognition, which in turns brings connectivity. Not to mention a boost in morale. But Congress’ hands are tied too. It has very little room for man oeuvre. Clearly, the party leadership is not very confident of the capabilities of its second line of leadership. Naturally, the older generation is the only fall-back option. But do these leaders have any takers among the Prospective voters? The answer is not encouraging. From Babbar to Pramod Tiwari, from Sanjay Singh to PL Punia; everyone is more concerned about their own future, rather than the party’s. But the party leadership has reposed faith in them. It is safe to assume that it must have seen something in them then. Something that neither the cadres nor voters may see. The onus lies on regional satraps too. They never allowed the second line of leadership to emerge. It’s a Congress disease. Every leader wants a vacuum below himself so that he remains relevant forever. The problem is, while these satraps might still be relevant to the party leadership, they have surely lost whatever relevance they once had among the people. That is precisely why in those states where the party is out of power, it is finding it difficult to make a comeback. Prashant Kishore is aware of this. He also knows that most of the leaders in UP consider themselves demigods. This has made them complacent. The kind of grassroots struggle which is required for a party to comeback is beyond their skills or talent now. Their attempt to enjoy the perks of power by striking alliances with regional parties, rather than taking the tougher route, has further eroded the morale of the party workers. It is not for nothing that none of the Congress leaders in UP could convince the voters that they are a viable alternative to the SP leadership. Tiwari and Punia took the help of SP crutches to get into Parliament. In spite of all this, if Kishore has reposed his faith in these leaders, it is not because of their talent, but because Kishore wants to avoid any defection or desertion from the party on the eve of election. No party can win a poll without the help of committed workers. And Congress has been facing this crisis for way too long now. It has been close to three decades that the party has remained out of power in the state. It is in opposition in MP since 2003, and in Gujarat since1995. It is out of power in Odisha for over 14years now. Even in states where it has lost recently, it is anybody’s guess if it can mount a comeback. There is no doubt that the road to the national capital passes through provincial capitals. Congress needs a major overhaul in its character, image and style of functioning to make a comeback. Unfortunately, the leaderships not willing to accept this.The experiment that it has tried to do in UP will fall flat. Congress needs to step out of Delhi and its Durbar to connect with the masses. It has become a huge, unimaginative beast which is in need of a serious jolt. Only then can it even start to think about a comeback.
Congress has been unable to overcome its organizational weakness. Prashant Kishore too has not given the kind of attention it deserves. It has severely affected the grassroots mobilization and struggle. Frontal organizations, which were once the main powerhouse of Congress Party, have lost their edge. NSUI, Youth Congress, party’s women wing and Seva Dal have lost their attractiveness and effectiveness. The regional division in NSUI and Youth Congress has made them ineffective. The entire process of organizational elections is so outdated and meaningless that the gap has further widened between the youth and the party. Changing the leadership of the women wing and Seva Dal has also not borne any fruit. The same goes for various cells. On paper, there are over a dozen odd cells. Many don’t even exist physically. Medical, Education, Sports, NGO, etc. have their convenors. But they are just cardboard characters. Leave alone coordinating activities, state leaders are not even aware of the names of these conveners. The spokesperson had to actually refer to a file in order to remember the names of the convenors. The same goes for departments as well. With the exception of the Scheduled Caste and Minorities departments, all others are languishing at the bottom. It is so abysmal that even regular meetings are not taking place anymore. Stern warnings have not worked. Some departments are so enigmatic that even cadres don’t know what they are actually for. It has just become a place to dole out largesse for sycophants. To compound the problem, MANREGA and RTI are no more the vote pulling planks that they used to be. The party has also failed to raise the issue of GST and land acquisition properly. The lack of organizational support is a big hindrance here.