The Congress vice-president is trying it hard, really hard. Rahul Gandhi has stressed a basic but the most important point: No amount of poll propaganda will help the Congress unless it strengthens its organisation at the grassroots level. Gandhi recently met party chiefs and chief ministers where it was established that weak organisation hampered the party's prospects in a key state like Gujarat in the recent assembly election. Gandhi has asked state leaders of the party to boost the local organisation if it hoped to turn around.
Gandhi also laid stress on starting a reward and punishment system within the party and categorically said that he would not like to hear party members demanding him as a prime ministerial candidate. He chided Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna after the latter raised the demand to make Gandhi as the PM candidate in the next Lok sabha polls. He said such a demand was demeaning for the government led by Manmohan Singh.
Rahul Gandhi also took a dig at the party leaders in Uttar Pradesh for doing no substantial work on the ground but yet aspiring to become the chief minister of the state. The Congress had put up a pathetic show in UP assembly elections last year and finished a poor fourth in the four-pronged battle. "There are even candidates to become the UN Secretary-General," Gandhi mocked.
The vice-president, who toolk over last month, advised the party members to tour countrysides, set goals and discourage factionalism. If people did not deliver, their wings would be clipped.
Rahul doesn't want to hear it, but he can't help it either
But soon after Gandhi said that he did not want to hear the 'become PM' chant, two other leaders were heard saying that he is the future leader. While Janardan Dwivedi, the man who cried after hearing Gandhi's emotional speech at Jaipur Chintan Shivir last month, said there was no need to crown him for he was already accepted as the future leader of the party. Another leader Beni Prasad Verma also said that Rahul Gandhi should be the Congress's PM candidate and did not bother to abide by what the leader had said.
No matter what Rahul says, old habits die hard
This raises the all-important question: Can the Congress's culture be changed at all? No matter what Rahul Gandhi speaks about decentralisation and inner-party democracy, the mere pronunciation of the surname 'Gandhi' works wonders for the party and this working model is just an anti-thesis to what Gandhi is hoping to achieve.
Take for instance, the recent case in UP. The local Congress leadership put up posters at Sangam, the venue of the ongoing Mahakumbh Mela, depicting Congress president Sonia Gandhi as Rani Lakshmi Bai and Rahul Gandhi as Lord Shiva. The overboard sycophancy boomeranged on a local Congress leader who was deprived of primary membership.
Ahead of the 2011 assembly election in West Bengal, a state party leader was heard describing Rahul Gandhi as the modern-day Vivekananda! The list of such instances is endless. This brazen sycophancy is an originality that marks the Congress's culture. What sort of measure can change this?
As long as a Gandhi is at the helm, no Congress leader will ever feel to look downwards and prepare the base. They will only seek blessing of the 10, Janpath, no matter where they operate in the country because this has been a culture that the power centre has encouraged all these years. Indira Gandhi had proudly established this culture and it was nurtured by her successors. Today, whatever scheme the Congress undertakes, it is dedicated to some or the other member of the first family. A prime minister like PV Narasimha Rao has been conveniently forgotten. And yet Rahul Gandhi is hoping to see a democratic political culture in the Congress?
Rahul Gandhi's tour to the states will reap little benefit. The reason is the same centralised political culture. Today's Congress has shrunk in terms of geographic reach, ideology and social coalition. Each state sees the party being dominated by endless number of warring factions. Whatever Congress we see as a unity today, it is just because of the 10, Janpath. Other than that, it is just a loose conglomeration of individuals and groups, each aspiring for his/its own political goal. It's a case of great paradox. If you want to reform the party, the Gandhis' control must be reduced but if that is indeed done, the party will cease to exist.
The Bahugunas, Dwivedis and Vermas and other members of the tribe won't change their thought because that is how they have learnt to perceive things. The only hope for the party, when it comes to election, is just how to capitalise on negative votes. It is because the Congress has no fresh direction to offer and won't have till its members learn to think afresh.
Rahul Gandhi has an option
However, there is an option that Rahul Gandhi can try if he is really feeling embarrassed by his loyalists' chanting. He can take an oath like Pitamah Bhishma of the Mahabharata, who had strongly pledged not to become the king ever and selflessly serve the ruler of the day. Perhaps that only can deter the Congress party's army of self-seekers and force them to do some hard work for their own good.