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The Spectre Looms Large


Despite the drubbing that it received in the general elections, India's grand old party has refused to learn from its mistakes
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: April 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Manmohan Singh | Sonia Gandhi | UPA | Congress | Modi Government | BJP |

It’s been close to two years since the Modi government stormed to power in Delhi. The Congress Party insists that the government has singularly failed to deliver on the promises made to people. As far as the people on the streets are concerned, they find it only partially true. They still want to give the benefit of doubt to Prime Minister Modi as of now and believe that we’ll have to wait for some time in order to pass an informed judgement on whether BJP’s punchline of 'Five Years versus 60' has only been a rhetoric and nothing more. Having said that, we can still make informed judgement based on statistics, and they don’t lie, say the naysayers. Congress supporters mention that liquidity has dried up in the market. It is another fact that the March 2016 money supply figures released by RBI show an above 12% yoy growth of liquidity. Yet, Congress supporters reiterate that in the sectors that are facing the slowdown, people have started to miss the UPA, and claim that under UPA, there was a proper system of doing thing, in spite of corruption, whereas things are just not moving under the present political dispensation.

The situation in the infrastructure sector is apparently even worse. The inventory remains unsold. Newer projects are not being launched. The liquidity, both black and white, has gone out of circulation. There is a prevailing fear. The so-called Black Money lobby, which was patronised by the previous government, is running scared and is biding its time. Although this lobby has nothing to do with the Congress Party, it apparently found the environment conducive during Congress’ reign. The lobby has started to spread the vibe that this government has run out of ideas and its agenda has long gone stale; that it is singularly incapable of mounting a success story. Its whisper campaign got an unexpected boost because the party lost the elections in Bihar in spite of its high-pitch campaign. The lobby is now predicting that BJP will score poorly in the upcoming assembly polls as well and that it will start to go in a downward spiral movement. If the results really match this lobby’s campaign, this will only boost the lobby’s prestige.
In the run up to the next poll, Congress has started echoing a similar campaign. Randeep Surjewala, in charge of the Congress’ Media cell, says, “Congress is planning to mount a media offensive against the government. We will not resort to lies and misinformation, but we need to inform people about what is this government up to. This campaign of ours will prove to be this government’s demise.”

Taking nothing away from Surjewala, one needs to understand how the Congress works. Every time a campaign strategy is finalised, a committee is set up. However, after a brief period of enthusiasm, many a time, the committee loses focus and enthusiasm and the campaign runs out of steam. This started back in the days of Narasimha Rao when talking points were decided, reading material was published and field publicity was synchronised. And that was it. The Manmohan Singh government took several wonderful decisions and implemented them, but it got lost in the campaign cacophony of Sonia Gandhi’s pet projects such as Right to Information, Right to Education and MNREGS.

“Several projects of the Modi government are actually UPA projects that have been presented with a new name and campaign. Naturally, we made a mistake not projecting our achievements in a way that would have struck a chord with the public,” concedes ex-Cabinet Minister and Congress leader R. P. N. Singh, while talking to The Sunday Indian.
He believes that the way the Modi government has made use of advertising campaigns, should have been done earlier by the Congress-led government.

Yet, excruciatingly, it appears that no lessons were learn from this mistake, in the age old tradition of the Congress Party. The reality is, there’s just Rahul Gandhi who is campaigning, and he is being sent by his coterie to whatever place they deem fit. Somebody like Jairam Ramesh tells him to go to Bhatta-Parsaul and speak for farmers and he complies. However, it turns out that any campaign under his leadership quickly loses steam and turns ineffective. Even the participation of Youth Congress, NSUI and State Congress Committee, as a force multiplier in his campaign, can be termed as tepid.

There are two primary reasons for this. The first is the lack of focus in his programme and the second is the failure to effectively reorganise the party structure. Rahul’s programmes are finalised at 12, Tughlaq Lane. What kind of research goes into this can be judged by the simple fact that on a given day, while one of his programme is in Karnataka, another is at Assam. How much publicity can these programmes achieve is anyone’s guess. At times, even the State Congress Committee is in the dark about the programmes; and when the programme is finally at hand, the state committee does some hurried up preparations. But this also means that there is simply no time left to structure a follow-up after he leaves.

This sentiment is echoed by ex-Foreign Minister Natwar Singh. “There are hardly any ideas for improvement in the Congress Party. Most of the insiders spend time either trying to get into the good books of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, or try and undercut other people’s chances for their own survival. There are hardly any strategists as the Gandhi family thinks it knows all. The others have no option but to follow what they say,” he says while talking to TSI.

But he is not alone. People whose sensitivities are attached with the Grand Old Party are often left pained and frustrated because of the scheme of things. This is especially true for the members of the “Opportunity Between Crisis” committee. The members of this committee had prepared a 10 years blueprint or roadmap for the organisational changes inside the party. Members of the committee told TSI that while Denstu India, a Japanese publicity firm, was hired for the Lok Sabha Campaign at the cost of Rs.400 crores, it is the Bihar election fame Prashant Kishore who has been roped up to energize the party’s strategy in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.

This has not gone down well with some of the members of the committee. A member confided to this journalist that outsiders don’t know the ideology and tradition of the Congress Party but are still given priority. Whereas the members of the committee, who made the report taking ground inputs from Karnataka and Uttarakhand, and which led to the return of Congress in these two states, have been slighted. However, they are hopeful that after the reorganisation of the Party, their situation will likely improve and the committee will be given its due.

This is worth mentioning here that the decision to expand the organisation has been postponed repeatedly since the last one and a half years because of the delay in appointing Rahul Gandhi as the supremo of the party. Till then, old and spent leaders are being given responsibilities in the advisory committee in the guise of bringing in new members. Leaders like Ahmad Patel, Sonia’s right hand man, are perpetually living in the fear of being ultimately sidelined. If we look at the list of the members of the Working Committee, it is pretty evident that 90 percent of the names appearing on the list are of the people who have been here for over a decade now. The lack of new faces is apparent. The problem is, Congress is a national party. People have spent their entire lives serving the party and waiting hopefully that one day their contribution will be recognised and some responsibilities will be given to them. There are hundreds of people who started their career with Maninder Bitta and Manish Tiwari and are still hopeful. They have ended up as acolytes of one leader or another. Take for example Mr. Shamim, who came to Congress through NSUI and has ended up as an acolyte of Salman Khurshid. There are many who have become realtors in absence of any post given by the party.

But this has started to backfire for the party. There is a growing feeling that the endless wait inside the Congress Party is not desirable. It started with Mamta Banerjee and has intensified in the Assam election. There are rumours that Kamal Nath can carve his own regional outfit in the next Madhya Pradesh assembly polls.

Insinuating the same, ex-Cabinet Minister, Aslam Sher Khan told TSI, “There is a lack of coordination between the old guards and the new faces following the advent of Rahul Gandhi. He wants the leadership of the party but cannot take strong decisions. Take for example the issue of growing intolerance. While Sonia Gandhi managed to bring in the entire opposition in order to meet the President, Rahul’s jibe of Fair & Lovely on the issue of black money did not cut favourably with the other opposition parties.”

BJP’s strategists know what needs to be done before their time is up. The moment the party came to power, it constructed an auditorium and facility for its workers to work under any weather condition. It has also arranged for a separate sub-connection for uninterrupted power supply. This is worth mentioning because in contrast, Congress has sort of a non-permanent office at 24, Akbar Road, which it can technically be asked to vacate. It did nothing in its 10 years' rule to go for a permanent office. Such is the mismanagement.
On the other hand, BJP has its Achilles’ heel too. Modi has the habit of trusting bureaucrats over his ministers. Consequently, ministers have been incapable of helping their cadres who flock to their residence from the corners of their respective constituencies. MPs are furious with the Ministers and cadres are with MPs. Slowly but surely, it looks as a repeat of UPA II when Congress cadres sat at home when they were needed the most. BJP insiders have now started to say that constructing roads and bridges won’t come to help the party in the next election if cadres sit out.

Leader of opposition, Ghulam Nabi Azad, told TSI, “We are in the process of forming a long-term strategy by learning from our past mistakes. But we surely need some time.”
This is indicative that Congress is presently stuck in a rut and responds purely to current issues that have the potential to embarrass the government. It tries to take initiative when any such issue surfaces but then botches up badly in the follow up. While there is no doubt its organisation is weak, because of this, it has also failed to cash in on the growing resentment against the BJP-led government. Is the Congress waiting under the impression that it will come back to power by default, without putting in prerequisite effort? There lies its abysmal present.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017