If Rahul Gandhi is not ready to resume the leadership of the Congress, the party should hold elections for the post of president and also to the elected seats on the Congress Working Committee to arrest the perception that it is rudderless and adrift, senior party leader and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor tells News18.
Q. Almost everyone says the problem with the Congress is that it’s leaderless and rudderless. Is Congress making a mistake by delaying the president issue?
A. As I have often pointed out, the challenge is that there appears to be a growing public perception, created and fuelled by a dismissive media (as your own question suggests), that the Congress is adrift and rudderless, incapable of taking up the challenge of a credible national Opposition. That is precisely what we need to urgently address by expediting the process of finding a full-time, full-term president.
Once this is done, we can also then move towards identifying solutions to other areas, such as organisational challenges, revitalising the party particularly in the states that we have not been performing well in recently, and energising the rank and file of our membership. The Congress remains the only credible national alternative to the BJP. We need to live up to that.
Q. Can’t the Congress look beyond the Gandhis?
A. I think the question too easily overlooks the fact that the Nehru-Gandhi family holds a special place in the hearts of Congress party members – and with good reason too. Aside from the great legacy they have inherited from their illustrious forebears, they have consistently brought together the various groups, ideologies, geographies and communities that collectively make up the fabric of the Congress Party.
They also have a clear record of success and experience in leading the party, both when in government and during tough times in the wilderness, when they have still managed to rally the men and women of the Congress together. Let us not forget the magnitude of what they have achieved for the party—or the ultimate sacrifice paid by two former presidents from the family.
So, for instance, if Rahul Gandhi is ready to resume the leadership, all he has to do is to withdraw his resignation. He was elected to serve till December 2022 and can just pick up the reins again. It would be a popular outcome among the rank and file of the party. But if he does not, we have to find another solution. That’s what I am talking about.
Q. You have pitched for elections - you think that’s possible? Will anyone even stand for contest?
A. In those circumstances - if the previous incumbent president does not want the job back - it is unfair to expect the interim president to continue to bear the burden indefinitely. Then my own personal view, which I have been advocating for some time now, is that elections for the post of president and also to the elected seats on the CWC would have a number of beneficial outcomes for the party.
A participatory democratic process would significantly add to the incoming leadership’s credibility and legitimacy which, in turn, would be vital assets as they set about the significant organisational challenges associated with re-energising the Congress. I am not too personally concerned about who will contest and so on, since my larger argument is not about any individual - but about advocating a process or a system through which we can address existing leadership issues and then embark immediately on the processes of revitalising and energising the party nationally. But at the end of the day this is a personal view and it is up to the party leadership to make a decision on whether elections are the right way forward, keeping these and other factors in mind.
Q. Sachin Pilot’s comeback in the Congress was initiated by Rahul Gandhi...should he try to get others back? And was this what strong leadership is about?
A. Look, I've often criticized the media for generalising too easily from individual cases. Each individual who felt he had a personal issue, in the circumstances of his state, to resolve with the party, was somehow converted by commentators into some pandemic of political disenchantment in the Congress.
I think each case is unique, and what applied to Scindia would not necessarily apply to Sachin. I regretted his disaffection, since I see him as one of our best and brightest young assets. I am glad he has chosen to stay in the party and fight alongside us for a better India.