New Delhi: Listening to the BJP leaders lecture the Congress on parliamentary decorum reminds me of a rather crude Urdu saying, on the hypocrisy of old sinners suddenly taking to preaching others ('Sau choohe kha ke billi haj ko chali').
For a party whose own record on disrupting parliament is so cringingly dubious ,it is somewhat rich of it to go all pious now that it is getting a taste of its own toxic potion.
So, I’ve no sympathy for the BJP’s sudden concern for legislative business. My problem with the Congress's tactics is that it looks like confusing a bit of muscle- flexing in parliament (the easiest of things to do) for a coherent strategy to revive itself after last year’s election debacle.
A false sense of triumphalism has already crept in -- fuelled by media headlines about how an "invigorated Congress" and a "newly combative Rahul Gandhi" are “cornering” the Modi government over the Vyapam and “Lalitgate’’ scandals. Congress spokespersons, doing the rounds of TV studios, can barely suppress their glee over the BJP's discomfiture, and there is brave talk of “not resting” until the mission is accomplished etc.
For good measure, the usually street shy Rahul Gandhi has threatened to lead daily protest at the foot of Gandhi's statue in the Parliament House complex.
"We will use all forms of protest to press our demands," one Congress MP was reported as saying.
Which is all very well. More power to the Congress elbow in its bid to bring the BJP down a peg or two from its high moral pedestal. The problem with the Congress strategy is that it seems to begin and end with shouting and screaming and waving placards in Parliament. An end in itself rather than a part of a larger plan to revitalise the party. When the BJP used similar tactics against the UPA government, it also simultaneously worked to carry the fight out into the streets, and mobilised its cadres outside Parliament to spread its anti-UPA message.
The Congress, on the other hands, appears content simply with slogan shouting and rhetorical flourishes. Simply creating hungama in parliament and holding protests in its own backyard will not help it win an election even in 2024 let alone 2019. That will require a real fightback. Which means pulling itself up by its bootstraps and stepping out of its comfort zone to reconnect with the workers it has forgotten and the disillusioned voters it lost in the last elections.
Yet more than a year after it was so comprehensively and contemptuously rejected, including by many of its traditionally loyal supporters, there's no sign of such a fightback: no attempt to rebuild the organisation despite claims of how “Rahulji” is devoting all of his energies to organisational matters; no new recruitment drive; no interest in building a new line of leadership beyond Rahul and his mates; and no effort to reach out to those who turned away from it, or to win new converts.
Instead, it is all about Rahul's coronation as party president, his mood swings, and his mysterious disappearances. He has a knack for going missing whenever there's a big occasion and the party needs him most such as during the protests over the land bill in March (“Land Bill protest: Sonia leads march, Rahul missing, Congress not amused”—read a FP headline at the time). Once in a while he surfaces in parliament amid media hype; and on a good day even manages to deliver clever one-liners of the "suit boot ki sarkar" variety, only to revert to his default position.
A party which--like a seriously sick patient--needs 24/7 care has ended up with a part-time, moody, and reluctant leader with no sense of where he wants the party to go from here. Ask anyone in the BJP and they would tell you that Rahul is the Congress party's biggest gift to them: uncharismatic, inarticulate and devoid of any big ideas. It may sound cruel, but he is the weakest link in the party and by persisting with him it is writing the longest suicide note in its political history.
Understandably, the Congress is suffering emotional trauma after such a heavy defeat but that's no excuse for failing to see that on its current form it can go only one way: downhill. It is clear that the scale and the nature of the general election debacle has not yet fully sunk in, and the party leadership still believes it was no more than a seasonal blip in the electoral cycle.
Listening to otherwise sensible party figures go on about how "we've been here before and have bounced back", one feels like shaking them physically and telling them s-l-o-w-l-y as you would tell a dim child : wake up; get real; no you have not been here before; and you won't ever bounce back unless you make an attempt to understand what you're up against.
The party has its work cut out if it is serious about bouncing back. Its biggest task is to attract the so-called aspirational new generation of voters whose support played a crucial role in Narendra Modi's election. Simultaneously, it must win back its traditional support base--minorities and other vulnerable sections—which deserted it last year. But most crucially it has start with rebuilding the organisation which has been systematically destroyed over the years by a High Command culture. Without a proper organisation at various levels, village upwards, it risks losing even existing support let alone winning new voters.
Yet, instead of doing anything about it, the party seems to have put all its eggs in short-term parliamentary tactics. They may help it get headlines, but what next? Even if the government blinks and gives in to its demand, it will be of little help in reviving the Congress fortunes in the absence of a clearly thought-out plan and the organisational wherewithal to capitalise on it.
A British Labour Party MP, frustrated over the disarray in the party after its second consecutive general election defeat, joked: “Can we rearrange the furniture in this House, please, so we become the ruling party again?"
I'm sure many in the Congress Party would be similarly wishing for the Lok Sabha furniture to be miraculously rearranged and catapult them into treasury benches. But, alas, miracles happen only in fairytales. In real-life, getting to occupy treasury benches requires hard work. And, by all accounts, Dilli remains door ast for the Congress.