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Congress Aims to Oust Armchair Netas for Grassroot Leaders But Decades of Baggage Lingers

File photo of Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)

File photo of Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)

In states barring Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Punjab where you see leaders still dedicated to the grassroots, the party hasn’t bothered to build or promote ground leaders.

After the dismissal, comes the admission. Admission of the points raised by Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha over the lack of interrogation and introspection within the party.

Jha joins the list of few Congress leaders who feel that the inertia within the party would lead to its demise. His questions were dismissed by most within the party. But in private, many agree with him.

Sanjay Jha hasn’t been a mainstream grassroots leader in the party. Based in Mumbai and a businessman who was with many American companies and even lived in the US, Jha soon rose to become the chairman of the All India Professionals’ Congress. The idea was to connect the Congress with professionals and the corporate sector who had turned their back on the party.

The Congress top leadership feels that it’s important now for the party to reconnect with the masses and match up to the connect the BJP, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has with the people. Where the BJP has gained is in its constant outreach, and the organisation is loaded with people who work on the ground.

The Congress wants to emulate this now. The party feels that a start towards this goal was made with some key appointments, like that of Ajay Kumar Lallu as UP Congress chief. The appointment baffled many at the time as he was seen as low-profile; some even asked “who is he?”

Lallu has now been in jail for 20 days and denied bail as the confrontation between the Congress and the Yogi Adityanath government over the migrant crisis amid lockdown drags on. The Congress in UP has decided to hit the ground running on the issue and make its presence felt in a state where it has been pushed out for years.

Lallu is a two-time MLA from Kushinagar and was born in a village in the same area. Not from any political family, he hails from a Bania family and rose from the ranks as a construction worker to students’ union leader, finally becoming UP Congress chief. It’s his zeal and connect with the people, as also the fact that he preferred to be low-profile, which brought him to the attention of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

While the Congress is banking on the issue to regain lost ground in UP, it also wants to look beyond the state and adopt a similar approach -- abandon high-profile, and what they call, ‘armchair’ netas.

“We need to change with the times. This is the time when all political parties have hit the streets hard. We can’t have endless meetings where we don’t always remain connected with the ground,” said a leader.

This has indeed been a problem for the Congress. In states barring Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Punjab where you see leaders still dedicated to the grassroots, the party hasn’t bothered to build or promote ground leaders.

The Congress wants to change this and identify ‘many Lallus’, a task easier said than done. This may be a rough choice to make for a party which has often opted for political lightweights who have the right connect with the bosses instead of building the organisation with those who work on the ground.

Even the choice of Lallu led to many heartbreaks and it was the unflinching support of Priyanka Vadra which ensured he continues in the position. But there have been complaints of Lallu facing non-cooperation from others.

For now, the party has decided to revamp the organisation structure from scratch where needed. A team has been set up to look at leaders who will work for the party and also ensure that the party structure changes from a top heavy dynastic one to a grassroots organisation.

But in the times of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the Congress would have hoped to play the role of constructive opposition, it’s still bogged down by inner party conflict. The latest being the fight between Manish Tewari and Sanjay Jha. Tewari has alleged that “some people with vested interests” prop up leaders who have no base.

Shedding nepotism and the high command culture is going to be tough for the Congress. So is finding more Lallus and pushing them up the organisational ladder.