The Congress proved on Friday at its Chintan Shivir in Jaipur that it has come a long way from Panchmari of 1998. From a clear no to coalition politics then, the grand-old party of India has finally acknowledged that formation of the coalition is an undeniable reality in today's politics. Barring some lesser voices, top party leaders have conceded to the fact that it is difficult to get an absolute majority in future elections. They have understood that the days of cohesive and monolithic issues are history, a true realisation indeed.
The party chief's warning that it is no more safe to alienate the country's young, smart and newly educated middle class that demands accountability is a significant one. She said the new generation connects with each other more frequently and in a better way, thanks to their own maturity level and the improved means of communication, and it is very, very important that the party lives up to the expectation of this class. The recent uproars against corruption and a barbaric rape incident in Delhi have perhaps made the Congress chief a worried personality.
So, is the Congress trying to re-establish its credentials as the original 'aam aadmi party'? The answer is yes. The party is trying to see if the ambitious new middle-class in the country is made a party in the political process and gets the political space it deserves.
In a way, it is taking a leaf out of the book of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who spoke in favour of a neo-middle class prior to the assembly polls in December and won them with resounding success. It is trying to reassert its grip across the country in terms of geography (by allying with regional like-minded parties) and also ideology (by catering to the welfare of the new powerful urban class). It is worried that new outfits like Aam Aadmi Party could make it suffer electoral reverses if it continues to overlook key issues that are affecting common people's daily life.
There is a big irony in this effort to script a turnaround by the Congress. The party, once led by towering leaders and played a significant role in the country's freedom struggle, was a grand symbol of coalition, ideology and ubiquity.
The Congress was a social platform where people and communities had once gathered together to achieve a grand aim, i.e., to free the nation from the colonial masters and take it forward on the path of independent growth. People voluntarily joined the platform for they admired the leaders and were convinced about the party's ideology and functioning. As a rainbow coalition, the Congress was a microcosm of India and its plurality comprising all classes, comprising the upper, middle and lower.
The Congress succeeded as a social coalition and saw a strong organisation because it had a strong ideological base founded by a powerful leadership. The likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, BR Ambedkar and several others gave a direction to the nation to proceed towards. Whether it is a parliamentary democracy, mixed economy, secularism, non-alignment or welfare state, the Nehruvian India had seen the Congress contributing to the nation-building process in a mammoth way.
And finally, because the party had a strong ideological foundation that facilitated social coalitions, it was not surprising that the Congress established itself as a universal party in the country. There were hardly any alternatives to giants called Nehru or Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeding him or even Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter. The internal coalition of the Congress never required it to go for external allies and it had equated its regional presence with that of the national one.
Party squandered all advantages after Nehru
Today, the Congress has to think about a fresh beginning for it has lost all the advantages it had since independence. Nehru's pragmatism was gradually replaced by populism by his successors, particularly by daughter Indira, whose strong determination to make the party's functioning family-centric, dealt big blows in terms of ideology and coalition. And when these two tenets were seriously threatened, the geographical strength of the party was also inevitably undermined. Prior to Indira, the Congress was a party known for its internal democracy.
Even Nehru had once said it was not desired that Indira became the party president when he himself was the Prime Minister. But his daughter altered all that and chartered a new course for the party that suffered division and fragmentation once Nehru died. Indira's ideological innovations like socialism and stress on poverty eradication were more populist leanings than eternal ideological foundations and the tradition of populist politics in the country, which is so widely practised today, perhaps had its inauguration in those years.
Need of the day: Internal democracy, corruption-free leaders, tech-savvy culture
Nehru's great-grandson Rahul Gandhi speaks to re-establish internal democracy today, but the culture of sycophancy is so deep-rooted that it may take an entire new age before the trend is reversed. Moreover, the first family called the Gandhis are so much disconnected with the common people today, no matter which class the latter belong to, that it takes anti-corruption and anti-rape uproars in the streets to open their eyes to learn the basics. The call for austerity by Sonia Gandhi is a welcome one but are the party leaders really assuming the party as a social platform catering to universal needs of the country? Elitism and corruption are the twin identities of the party today and hence it is crippled.
The self-obsessed Gandhis also need to understand that their party culture stands outdated in comparison to the tech-savvy youth's orientation. The party is speaking about finding allies but is it still prepared to make an alliance with the new middle class by connecting with them through the powerful media in all form? Sometimes, it is found dealing strongly with social media freedom or at other times, its leaders are seen failing to tame their mouth in front of a microphone.
The realisation has come, but how to execute it?