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Foreign Policy

Congress Occasion Decline Undermines Democracy



On the finish of August, veteran Kashmiri politician Ghulam Nabi Azad introduced that he would go away the Indian Nationwide Congress, the nation’s most important opposition occasion, to kind a political occasion of his personal. In his letter of resignation, he lambasted Rahul Gandhi, the political scion who regardless of resigning as Congress occasion chief in 2019 nonetheless wields appreciable clout. Azad accused him of refusing to seek the advice of with occasion stalwarts on main choices whereas empowering a bunch of “inexperienced sycophants” to run the occasion.

Azad’s departure is simply the most recent signal of rising resentment among the many Congress occasion’s ranks. Azad follows three other senior Congress politicians—Kapil Sibal, Amarinder Singh, and Jyotiraditya Scindia—who’ve not too long ago defected for different events. Their resignations come on the heels of an August 2020 letter from 23 senior party leaders to Congress occasion chief Sonia Gandhi—Rahul Gandhi’s mom—to precise their unhappiness with the management and the hollowing out of organizational buildings throughout the occasion.

The Congress occasion has been waning since 2014, when it misplaced to the Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP) on the nationwide stage, adopted by defeats in state elections. In 2019, the BJP surged whereas Congress gained simply 52 out of 542 contested seats within the Lok Sabha, the decrease home of India’s Parliament. The occasion continues to undergo on the polls: Up to now this yr Congress has misplaced seats in 4 of 5 state legislative meeting elections. Regardless of these losses, the Congress occasion has been sluggish to restructure. To place it bluntly, the occasion that ushered in India’s independence now seems to be in terminal decline.

On the finish of August, veteran Kashmiri politician Ghulam Nabi Azad introduced that he would go away the Indian Nationwide Congress, the nation’s most important opposition occasion, to kind a political occasion of his personal. In his letter of resignation, he lambasted Rahul Gandhi, the political scion who regardless of resigning as Congress occasion chief in 2019 nonetheless wields appreciable clout. Azad accused him of refusing to seek the advice of with occasion stalwarts on main choices whereas empowering a bunch of “inexperienced sycophants” to run the occasion.

Azad’s departure is simply the most recent signal of rising resentment among the many Congress occasion’s ranks. Azad follows three other senior Congress politicians—Kapil Sibal, Amarinder Singh, and Jyotiraditya Scindia—who’ve not too long ago defected for different events. Their resignations come on the heels of an August 2020 letter from 23 senior party leaders to Congress occasion chief Sonia Gandhi—Rahul Gandhi’s mom—to precise their unhappiness with the management and the hollowing out of organizational buildings throughout the occasion.

The Congress occasion has been waning since 2014, when it misplaced to the Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP) on the nationwide stage, adopted by defeats in state elections. In 2019, the BJP surged whereas Congress gained simply 52 out of 542 contested seats within the Lok Sabha, the decrease home of India’s Parliament. The occasion continues to undergo on the polls: Up to now this yr Congress has misplaced seats in 4 of 5 state legislative meeting elections. Regardless of these losses, the Congress occasion has been sluggish to restructure. To place it bluntly, the occasion that ushered in India’s independence now seems to be in terminal decline.

Sadly, the issues that afflict the Congress occasion are deep-seated. Starting in the course of the tenure of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi within the Sixties and Nineteen Seventies, its organizational equipment has withered, loyalty to the occasion management has taken priority over concepts, and sycophancy has change into rife inside its ranks. The Congress occasion’s ongoing disarray bodes unwell for the way forward for India’s democracy. It leaves a large void within the political opposition, permitting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP—with its substantial parliamentary majority—to simply rebuff any problem to its insurance policies.

The Congress occasion’s present dysfunction traces way back to Indira Gandhi’s first time period, from 1966 to 1977. Indira Gandhi assumed workplace after the loss of life of Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had succeeded her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, as prime minister. The important thing Congress energy brokers assumed she can be pliable; to their shock, she performed hardball, going so far as splitting the party in 1969 when the previous guard stood in her manner. Nehru nurtured the occasion’s grassroots, inspired dissenting views, and held periodic elections for occasion positions. Indira Gandhi ended these practices, centralizing energy in New Delhi and counting on a small group of advisors with little tolerance for inner opposition. These selections led to the resignations of a number of senior leaders of the occasion, a lot of whom fashioned their very own regional events.

After Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, she was succeeded by her son Rajiv Gandhi, who initially confirmed some curiosity in party reform. In a well-known speech marking the occasion’s centenary in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi lashed out on the “self-perpetuating cliques” throughout the Congress occasion and known as for crucial reforms, together with reorganization, a return to the occasion’s early ideology, and outreach efforts that will make the occasion related to the plenty. Regardless of this name to arms, Rajiv Gandhi in the end backed away from reform efforts when confronted with opposition from throughout the Congress occasion. The organizational atrophy that started below Indira Gandhi continued.

Then, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, and the Congress occasion struggled to establish a successor. P.V. Narasimha Rao finally emerged, main the occasion and India from 1991 to 1996. After the Congress occasion misplaced the 1996 nationwide elections, Sonia Gandhi—Rajiv Gandhi’s widow—orchestrated a takeover and has remained on the epicenter of the occasion ever since. Sonia Gandhi initially proved an adept chief, constructing a secure, cross-party coalition that pulled off stunning nationwide victories in 2004 and 2009. Nevertheless, like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi consolidated energy with the final word intention of transferring management to her son, Rahul Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi ensured that her son would encounter minimal opposition from throughout the occasion, however she couldn’t shield him from his personal shortcomings. Though he was not but formally the occasion chief, the BJP took the chance to painting him as a whole political novice. In 2014, Rahul Gandhi unofficially led Congress’s defeat within the nationwide elections, with the BJP taking an absolute majority within the Lok Sabha. Instantly after the loss, Rahul Gandhi disappeared from view: He skipped a number of of the Congress occasion’s most necessary occasions, together with the farewell to outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the occasion’s 130th Foundation Day occasions later that yr.

Though the Congress occasion misplaced a number of state elections over the following few years, Sonia Gandhi’s plan nonetheless went forward. Rahul Gandhi was formally named head of the occasion in 2017, two years earlier than nationwide elections. When the occasion misplaced once more in 2019, Rahul Gandhi resigned as its chief, however his mom stepped in once more as interim president, with the COVID-19 pandemic extending her time period. The Congress occasion has now been dominated by both Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi since 1998; throughout this era, its govt committee has deserted inner elections in favor of appointments, additional concentrating energy throughout the Gandhi household.

Amid the management struggles, the Congress occasion has failed to offer a viable ideological different to the BJP. Lately, Congress leaders haven’t persistently maintained the occasion’s dedication to secularism. They haven’t supplied a blueprint for India’s economic system that clearly differs from the present authorities’s, they usually haven’t bluntly confronted its efforts to squelch civil liberties. The Congress occasion is in organizational disarray: Its management is bereft of concepts, and nepotism has hobbled the emergence of newer, extra imaginative leaders. In consequence, it has eroded its personal potential to stage a political comeback.

The Congress occasion’s eclipse undermines India’s democracy: No different entity can fill the void as a viable nationwide opposition occasion. And apart from criticizing BJP insurance policies, the Congress occasion has did not articulate a compelling and differing political imaginative and prescient. Moreover, the general opposition stays fragmented alongside regional traces. Success has been restricted to specific states, resembling that of the Trinamool Congress occasion in West Bengal, and even regional events now discover themselves below the BJP’s anvil. The ideological and organizational disarray of the Indian left has put Modi’s occasion in an much more advantageous place. There may be now no different to its management, and except the Congress occasion can forge a working coalition with numerous regional events, the BJP’s dominance will stay unchallenged.

Nevertheless, because the Congress occasion continues to disintegrate, the leaders who stop are more likely to flip to the BJP or to those opposition actions at state and regional ranges, additional weakening the prospects for a nationwide opposition. Azad’s new occasion is more likely to concentrate on contesting elections in Indian-administered Kashmir, the place a vote may happen subsequent yr, after the previously semi-autonomous area’s reorganization by the BJP in 2019. The Congress occasion has hardly ever loved rather more than a toehold in Jammu and Kashmir, however Azad’s departure will additional undermine its tenuous standing there.

In response to Azad’s resignation, the Congress occasion introduced that inner elections for a new party president can be held subsequent month. Nevertheless it’s not clear whether or not management of the occasion will truly switch exterior the Gandhi household, as a number of senior occasion officers are as soon as once more recruiting Rahul Gandhi to take the reins. Moreover, the occasion hasn’t dedicated to a transparent process, and occasion reformers have expressed concern that they may not know who’s eligible to vote. A brand new battle for management will pit Gandhi household stalwarts in opposition to reformers, together with the remaining members who signed the dissenting letter in 2020.

No matter occurs, the following chief of the Indian Nationwide Congress won’t solely should restore a divided and disorganized occasion, however they can even cope with a troublesome political panorama. With the BJP ascending on the nationwide degree and elevated competitors from state and regional events, whoever takes cost of the Congress occasion will face an uphill battle.

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