Even if the revolt loses steam, it will not bury the issues raised by the letter such as the need for internal democracy and urgent corrective measures if Congress has any hope of matching Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. The letter does not name names, but the reference to parliamentary party meetings being reduced to “a customary address by the CPP leader and obituaries” and CWC failing to mobilise public opinion is as plain as it gets.
For some time now, there has been an agitated buzz in the party over the unwillingness on part of Congress’s first family to consider the need for course correction. Rather than collective brainstorming, the party’s functioning has become more remote. There seems to be no recollection of “chintan shivirs” held in Pachmarhi (1998), Shimla (2003) and Jaipur (2013) or even the “Narora-type sessions” when the late P V Narasimha Rao was PM. The party has lurched along, occasionally buoyed when a BJP state government falls to incumbency or an unanticipated bonus like the Shiv Sena revolt. Meanwhile, it lost Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh governments and just about saved Rajasthan.
The G23 letter should not be a surprise for Congress brass. Resentment has been rising over Rahul Gandhi’s decision not to be party president and yet direct Congress’s stance on every major issue through tweets, videos and key appointments of functionaries seen as lightweights. Leaders and legislators are leaving the Congress. An unequal power sharing in Madhya Pradesh saw Jyotiraditya Scindia scupper the government and the disenchantment of younger leaders once close to Rahul Gandhi should provide some food for thought.
Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, has been of the view that seniors lacked the stomach to take up cudgels against the Modi government while he levelled allegations of graft in the Rafale deal and asked questions about who “benefitted” from the Pulwama attack. Scores of 44 and 52 in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections have failed to convince the Gandhi scion that harsh, personalised attacks on Modi might actually be counter-productive. He continues in the same vein, accusing Modi of “cowardice” in allowing China to “grab land.” This may also tell why any call for self-analysis is likely to be non-starter.
So far Congress, and this includes some of the letter writers, has often taken a supercilious view of Modi and BJP, viewing them as unwashed interlopers. This view strikes a chord with those unwilling or incapable of acknowledging the success of Modi and home minister Amit Shah in “mainstreaming” the right wing. The two-third vote in Rajya Sabha and an even bigger 351-72 vote in Lok Sabha to nullify Article 370 and the political acceptance of the Ayodhya judgment should be sufficient evidence that wooing the already converted may not be enough.
The letter delivered to Sonia Gandhi on August 7 points out that youth have gone with Modi and Congress’s appeal among new voters is declining. It refers to the party having lost 1.23 crore of the close to 12 crore votes it polled in 2009 to win 206 Lok Sabha seats. The gap between BJP and Congress has grown, and it is clear that Modi is a formidable opponent in national elections.
The late V N Gadgil, a well-respected Congress spokesperson, had a tale to tell of how post the 1989 Lok Sabha defeat, a leader told Rajiv Gandhi at a party meeting: “If your advisors misled you, sack them! If your computers are at fault, sell them (at an Old Delhi junk market)!” Sometimes even venting emotions can help, a lesson Rajiv’s legatees may need to re-learn.