Sunday, March 4, 2018

Reflections on the Congress’s performance in the North East

Source: The Hindustan Times

I would start this piece of writing with a disclaimer – that I am an eternal optimist. It does not however mean that when the Congress party snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, my heart doesn’t bleed. It does.

Politics means pragmatism. It requires a ‘matter-of-fact-treatment’. It’s the ability to know the reality- the writing on the wall. In the recent defeats in the Northeast, the Congress party very well knew the writing on the wall and the severe constraints it is facing. It definitely knew that, its political organizations in the North East desperately required a Central spine. It also knew that the BJP- RSS is working overtime and dubious methods to usurp power in these states and it also knew that it is not doing any justice to its local leaders, whatsoever. The Congress left its leaders in the Northeast to fend for themselves- not because it wants to, but because it was forced to. It did whatever best it could do in the current circumstances.

Some unknown faces of the newly created and refurbished departments in the party belatedly did camp in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, but they were not able to clean up the rot. Colleagues who I know personally, travelled extensively, tried to pump in some oxygen in the organization, highlighted some issues to the Centre- even though it was a small and fresh beginning, yet it was an important one. Had they not done it, we would have been much below those 21 seats in Meghalaya or some key state leaders would have deserted us in other states. Yet, the overall picture one sees is that of apathy and disinterest.

So what was the prime reason for this apathy? There are multiple reasons. The first and foremost is the cleanup exercise which is going in the Central unit. The weeding out of non-performers and the status quoists, enabling a generational change and revamping of a new organization is the most important task for the Central leadership as of now. If we do not have an organization, fresh faces and hardworking leaders- we cannot build a new future. Sometimes you have to start on a clean slate and that is what happening, in a gradual, albeit calibrated manner. In an organization which is so entrenched and obsessed with its past (and rightly so) one needs to balance out all age groups and regions and representatives. The recently announced groups and sub groups for the AICC plenary session, give us a peak in this process. More radical decisions need to be followed and we would certainly see a change post March.

Lack of resources and logistics is the biggest problem the Congress party is facing. People may mock me for this assessment, but that is the grim reality. It is unable to furnish even basic campaign materials for local polls like the recent Uttar Pradesh local body elections, where a former Congress Minister of State lost mayoral elections. Not every candidate or every elected representative possesses the means to fight elections, especially in an increasingly competitive political space where propaganda off all shades and hues and on all platforms matter a lot.  Nowhere, here am I attempting to find a convenient alibi for the Congress’ defeat in these recent polls. Yes lack of resources and logistics is only one of the factors. There are many more.

Another reason is that, some of the leaders responsible for these states have already given up the fight even before they entered one. Some who did attempt to give one were the young ones. They were brought in very late in the day in order to somehow rescue the situation, but their hands were tied because of constant interference by the older and more senior leaders.

The key to win elections is to have an agenda and to package in a way that it should appeal to your voters. I have repeatedly underlined this extremely important issue in my earlier pieces. It is high time that the Congress spelt its vision for India in the backdrop of the current political scenario.
At the cost of repeating myself again, I am again quoting from a previous piece which I had written in July 2017.

‘A solid, implementable narrative and a new vision to take along those committed liberal voters who still believe in those ideals on which the edifice our Constitution was laid. Time and again, I have come to this conclusion that only a positive narrative can resurrect the Congress.

For starters, we should look at our own 2014 Manifesto. This 45 page document should be our Magna Carta to attack and question the BJP. It will give us more credibility because we shall not be merely criticizing the policies, but also put forth a positive policy solution. “Had the Congress been in power, there were the 5 steps it would have taken to solve agrarian distress”. “These are the steps that the Congress party would have taken to create more jobs”.

The voter connect is only possible when you gather small constituencies of groups together and target your liberal supporters. Laziness, complacency and arrogance should be done away with. A strong ideological resolve is needed so as solidify your support base. We all know what ails the Congress party, we also have some solutions. No political party that has a closed system and secretive in nature can function in a vibrant democracy. We have to open the doors for the converted and to the swing ones.’

Certainly some heads need to be rolled given the complete disaster which took place in the North East. Certainly, we should stick to our own Centrist ideology and not make ideological compromises by aligning with the Left or Non-Centrist parties and certainly we need a vision for 2019. The clock is ticking and we have very less time.

All the views expressed in the article by the author are strictly personal.

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