Advice for the Congress

I offer it only because I believe that democracy without a strong opposition party causes more harm than good. Narendra Modi may truly have a spiritual strength that will prevent absolute power from going to his head, but it is too risky to bet on this.

Never did I think that a day would come when I would hope the Congress party regains some of its former glory. There are reasons why I do not like the Congress. I got my first job as a reporter a month before Mrs Gandhi declared the Emergency and enforced the most brutal press censorship. I was witness to how she used the suspension of democracy to hand the Congress party and the Government of India to her younger son. He had never even contested an election. In my view Mrs Gandhi’s ‘socialist’, statist economic policies were an unmitigated disaster. I believe that her son and daughter-in-law’s adherence to these policies is the reason why millions of Indians continue to live in extreme poverty.

The Congress party’s ruling family has an arrogance and sense of entitlement that I despise. Last year, when Sonia Gandhi was the star speaker at the India Today conclave in Mumbai, I saw her exhibit this in full measure. She said two things that remain imprinted in my brain. She said she would not ‘allow’ Narendra Modi to become prime minister again. What made her believe that she had the power to allow or disallow Modi from becoming prime minister mystifies me. When asked the reasons for the humiliating defeat in 2014 of the party she led for two decades, she said it was only because Modi was better at ‘marketing’ himself.

This is now being repeated by senior Congress leaders as the reason for the drubbing the party got this time. If they really believe this then what I have to say will mean nothing. But, if there is anyone left in the party of our freedom movement who wants to see it return to its days of glory, then here is some free advice from a detractor.

I offer it only because I believe that democracy without a strong opposition party causes more harm than good. Narendra Modi may truly have a spiritual strength that will prevent absolute power from going to his head, but it is too risky to bet on this. There is not one regional party that is showing the smallest signs of becoming a national party, so it is in India’s interest for the Congress party to go back to being a real political party again.

Under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi it became a private limited company with sycophants and family members as the only directors on its board. Since there was nobody to challenge her decisions there was nobody to point out that the party was slowly dying. As a veteran hack I remember a time when you could find Congress party volunteers in almost every village. I remember that these volunteers were usually from the Seva Dal and wore their white Gandhi caps with pride. In times of need it was always these volunteers who came to the help of the needy. They were decent, selfless people with a real desire for public service and with no greed for high office. They liked telling you that they had fought for India’s freedom and taught their children that there was nothing better they could do in life than serve India to their last breath.

In recent election campaigns I have gone looking for this genre of Congress volunteer and can report that they have totally disappeared. They have often been replaced by RSS volunteers who are motivated by Hindutva and an aggressive, nasty kind of nationalism. Had the old kind of Congress volunteer still been around, they would have risked their lives to prevent Muslims and Dalits from being attacked and lynched by vigilantes. So where did they disappear? Why did they disappear?

If the Congress party does some serious analysis of why they have now lost two general elections to a man they believe will destroy the ‘soul of India’, they may find that it is because the Congress party changed its character. This started to happen when the practice of dynastic democracy began. The kind of person who got a ticket to the Lok Sabha changed. Those motivated by private gain got precedence. Ninety per cent of the Congress MPs now fall into this category. Rahul Gandhi was right when he pointed out that two of the party’s chief ministers had shown more interest in getting tickets for their sons than in winning the elections in their states.

He did not notice that he was in no position to criticise since his Mummy had done the same for him. Nor did he notice that when the going seemed to get tough during this campaign the only solution he came up with was to bring his sister into politics. It is not going to be easy to change the Congress into a real political party again, but someone must try doing it. India needs a strong opposition party today more than ever.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh

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