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Posted at: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM; last updated: Aug 13, 2017, 12:42 AM (IST)
Saba  Naqvi
MOCKINGBIRD
Saba Naqvi

Drilling sense into Congress

Saba Naqvi
Congress is rooted in values, history and ideology that is bigger than a diminished dynasty. It needs to abandon the idea of the bloodline, if it wants to survive
NO person in the world has as much power over me as my dentist does when I am in the chair. There I am helpless on my back and there he is, God or Devil himself, holding the drilling machine that can theoretically gauge out my eye, poke my cheeks, stab my forehead and so on. But being a good guy he only fixes my teeth. And being a great guy he also holds worth on the state of the nation and has over the years become my thermometer into the thinking of the professional middle class. When he loves Modi, Modi wins, when he tries out AAP, they win too (and when he hates them they lose). 

He has spent many years hating the Congress and they have been losing. But my dentist is a troubled man these days because he is unhappy with GST and says that demonetisation also damaged his rather large practice that he had expanded some years ago, investing in equipment and many juniors who walk around in smart coats. But he's had a bad financial year and is not optimistic about the immediate future. Make no mistake, he still loves Modi but is getting the sort of pangs that lead to infidelity.

Therefore, last week he committed the blasphemy (or is it treason these days?) of saying that he is beginning to wonder if the days of Manmohan Singh were not better for professionals. The minute I could speak, I sat up and said but doctor, you love Modi so much are you saying he's not perfect? By now it was clear that my dentist was depressed and the Hindu Rashtra was not compensating for monies lost. 

The poor man was grappling with what I would call a crisis of faith. He was muttering about economy and destiny as great nation but having to let one junior go and so on. So I asked him straight: If there was an alternative to the BJP, would you vote for it? The reply was straightforward: There is no alternative as long as Rahul Gandhi is there and as long as he is there I would not vote for the Congress but if they project another leadership, I would! 

I know this is the week when the Congress is supposed to be upbeat because Ahmed Patel made it to the Rajya Sabha (and I have nothing against Patel who has only been pleasant and courteous with me). But I want to stress that the sort of energy and resources that went into ensuring that a trusted family retainer made it to the Upper House is exactly the sort of spectacle that has alienated the middle class from the Congress. 

My quarter century spent covering politics has left me with a few conclusions. People prefer to vote for those who they believe are likely to win. Rahul does not look like a winner. Yet the Congress has an impressive history and is the party that opened up the economy that benefitted the middle class. But they can never tap into that goodwill as long as the party is run by a family that's lost all its charisma. 

The counter argument may be that multiple regional parties are led and run by dynasties so why ask the Congress to be different? Because the Congress is traditionally rooted in values, history and ideology that is bigger than a diminished dynasty. It needs to tap into that legacy and abandon the undemocratic idea of the bloodline.  Long time hacks who cover the Congress keep saying it will fall apart if a family member is not there to hold it together. I have two responses to that: first, what's left to fall apart? Second, wouldn't that be a good thing as the party structures are dominated by people unable to win an election anyway (never mind the Rajya Sabha seat).

What if a New Congress can be created by an entirely new and young set of leaders? Let Sonia and Rahul give up control as president and vice-president and retire into advisory senior citizen roles. Let the state leaderships, defeated or still holding ground, recommend talented names and individuals. Yes, there will be chaos, but it is only from a churning that something new can emerge. Destruction lies at the heart of creation.

Elections are often won because people wish to defeat the incumbent. Right now, they have no alternative. Imagine the electric impact if the Congress makes an announcement the dynasty is retiring and young, fresh and clean leaders will henceforth lead the party and from among them a face will emerge. At least the country would be interested. 

I see no good reason why this can't be tried as there is nothing left to lose (except Ahmed Patel's seat it seems). If drastic measures are not taken then one can only deduce that members of the dynasty see the party as a private limited company and they need it for a career option and/or a retirement plan besides a necessity to protect some in laws. 

Letting go, I believe, is the bravest thing they can do now. 

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