Congress president polls: A change that ensures no change
So it does look like there is change in the air for Congress. But here's the thing. The candidate who is now certain to get the post is the least likely one to usher in any visible or long-term change.
In a little over a week, the Indian National Congress, the oldest political party around, will have a new president. This is not the first time that an election will take place to elect the party's national head. But this is the first time it is happening in more than two decades which means an entire generation of Indians and voters have not been witness to such a thing. That itself makes it an interesting political event to look out for.
But there is more. There is no member of the Congress first family in the fray. With Rahul Gandhi declining the request of his party colleagues to reconsider his stance of not becoming president, the contest is now between Mallikarjuna Kharge and Shashi Tharoor. The former from Karnataka and the latter from Kerala, the two states which sent the maximum number of Congress MPs in 2019.
Of course, it would be fooling ourselves to think this stance of the Gandhi family is not 'inspired' by circumstances. For quite some time now, whispers oveA r the Gandhi scions ability to lead the party to victory have not remained whispers anymore. Regardless of the party spokespersons' comments that 'those who want to leave can leave', there is no denying that the exodus of both young and old leaders has depleted the Congress' bench strength.
Then there are sporadic voices being raised in different states. Perhaps the most talked about and organized was the initiative of the G-23 which has seen some prominent faces bid goodbye while the others seem to have piped down. At least for now.
The moot point being that dozens of electoral losses, an unending streak of desertions and voices within the party are the reasons that must have led the Gandhi family to make way for a non-Gandhi party president. On top of everything was perhaps the clarion call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the Red Fort that dynasty and corruption would be the twin agendas of the BJP in the coming days. By not officially heading the party, the Congress would like to reduce the sharpness of the dynasty jibe, if not blunt it.
So it does look like there is change in the air for India's Grand Old Party. Not just because there is an election for the chief but also no Gandhi in the fray. But here's the thing. The candidate who is now certain to get the post is the least likely one to usher in any visible or long-term change. Either in its working or the perception towards the organisation. Indeed, the reason Kharge seems to be the 'chosen one' is precisely because he guarantees status quo more than the others vying for the place.
And it is not just because of its age. Though it would have definitely looked better if he wasn't 80 but that is just one reason. Kharge is perhaps more status quoist than even the Gandhis and Vadras themselves. And even if he has any ideas of ushering in some change, he will now think twice before taking the initiative considering what his colleague and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot went through. Indeed, Kharge wouldn't even be in the fray if the unprecedented MLAs' revolt in Jaipur didn't happen.
The Jaipur saga is enough to deter any aspirant in the party from trying out anything in the near future. So Congress spokespersons do have some talking points about there being a formal election of the president and that too a Dalit leader, who rose from the ranks, bagging it.
But if the party rank and file were looking forward to seeing a new party boss, one who would not just recycle decades-old political formulas but actually initiate a grassroots revamp and make the party reflect the aspirations of the upwardly mobile New India's citizens, that may still remain a pipe dream.
If nothing else, Shashi Tharoor deserves to be complimented just for sticking his neck out and forcing a contest, no matter how lop-sided. If he does indeed poll a good number of votes it would mean party cadres were actually looking for change. So you know who lost. Yes, the party.
(Smita Mishra writes on politics and current affairs)
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