CNBC TV18 Column : What Next for the Indian National Congress

I write for CNBC TV18, on what next for the Congress after the crushing defeat at the polls?

The Indian National Congress is in disarray. It has lost the general election for the second time in a row, by a massive margin. It’s vote share is crumbling. In most states in India, the Congress has no representative. The people have said a resounding no to the Congress.   And, to cap it all, the Gandhi name no longer has the pull with the younger audience, that it did with their parents and grandparents  The disastrous election result was followed by the resignation of the Congress Party President, and the face of its campaign, Rahul Gandhi. While the Congress has refused to accept the resignation, reports suggest that Rahul Gandhi is determined to quit as the leader of the party. Whether he succeeds or not is moot. What is definite however, is that the next President of the Congress has massive challenges to overcome.

The first is the understanding that the organisation – any organisation – is greater than the individual members who make it up. And, like any organisation, new blood needs to be inducted, a career path ought to be defined, and promotions ought to occur based on merit. Would you join an organisation where various families and their extended clans occupy every ‘management position’ leaving you with no hope of ascending the career ladder? Would a bright, ambitious person who wants to serve their country join such an organisation? The answer is a resounding no. And, the problem with the Congress, and many of the regional parties, is not just the fact that the top echelons are dominated by large extended families, but also that it permeates down to the booth level. The next Congress president has to make recruitment as a top goal.  Attract the best talent, booth level upwards, and make sure they have hunger in their belly, the desire to win, and the drive to serve the people.    

The second vital goal, to make goal one succeed, is ruthlessly chopping out the deadwood in the party. They need to take a leaf out of the BJP organisation playbook and retire everyone over the age of 70. Starting with Sonia Gandhi, and the Congress Working Committee. These people were in touch with the aspirations of India 20 years ago. But, the market has changed, aspirations have changed, and the high command does not even know that change has already happened. Their blinkers in trying to protect an imaginary market share of ideas, has let them get wiped out in most states. A bit like Kodak refusing to launch the next digital camera, or Nokia refusing to launch smartphones, the old guard is refusing to let the party embrace the present to charge towards the future. The next Congress president has to hand out pink slips ruthlessly to the old guard, to make space for the new.

The third important goal is to attract diversity of ideas. The Congress Party used to be the party of ideas. It encompassed a spectrum of ideals – conservatives and liberals, centralists and federalists – all co-existed. Each a leader in his or her own space, and each willing to put their ego on the back burner for the greater good of the party, and the country. The next Congress President needs to go back in history and learn from their own organisation. The Indian National Congress used to be a party that encompassed diversity of ideas – a Nehru and a Patel, Maulana Azad and a CR Deshmukh, co-existed in the same party. And, that is a space that the INC has ceded to the BJP. The BJP has become the giant tent that encompasses a spectrum of ideas. Conservative and liberal. Capitalist and communist. The next congress president has to plan for building back this diversity.  

 While Rahul Gandhi might be determined on quitting as party president, he might have to give them a longish notice period 18-24 months. While there may be others more suitable to lead the party, it seems unlikely that anyone else but him will be able to clean up the proverbial Aegean stables, that is the Congress Party. No one else will be able to clear of the deadwood from the party – that includes his mother, and a fair few family loyalists. To become a party that is a contender in governing municipalities, states, or the centre – the Congress has to restructure. Or it will meet the fate of Kodak and Nokia.   

News Reporter

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