In a forthright interview where he analyses the challenge facing the Congress party and the effectiveness of Congress’s response, political analyst Suhas Palshikar says that the party’s Raipur plenary was “neither a success nor a failure”. Professor Palshikar added that an awful lot more is necessary if Congress is to revive. This is both in terms of the party’s ideological messaging as well as in terms of revitalising its organisation, which would require a far greater and more active role by Rahul Gandhi himself.
In a 35-minute interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire, Palshikar, who is chief editor of studies in Indian Politics and co-director of Lokniti’s Programme for Comparative Democracy, began by identifying the challenge facing Congress. He said it is “to remain competitive in a multi-party federal polity.” The problem is that this is a challenge that has faced Congress for three decades since its defeat in 1989. He said the crisis for the Congress party began then and it has never come out of it. He added that with the passage of time the challenge could be becoming “insurmountable”.
In the interview, Palshikar first discusses the steps Congress has taken between the Udaipur Chintan Shivar of May 2022 and the Raipur Conclave. He says there are “three small achievements” to the party’s credit. They are, first, that bloodletting has stopped and there are no further major defections or splits. Second, the party has elected a new president. Third, it has agreed to reserve places in the CWC for women, youth, minorities and marginalised sections of the population. Please see the interview to understand why Palshikar calls these small achievements.
Thereafter, Palshikar discusses, at considerable length, both the organisational tasks and the task of political mobilisation that Congress must successfully tackle if it is to revive.
Speaking about the organisational tasks, Palshikar says the most important is “the democratisation of the functioning of the party”. Here the failure or refusal to hold CWC elections is particularly damaging.
The second organisational task is to fulfil the Udaipur commitment to one-family-one-post which, in fact, Palshikar believes has been quietly buried. He said this doesn’t simply apply to the Gandhi family. It “has more to do with the entrenched interests of many families that control local party units … this is more about the way local politics is conducted and thwarts the entry of young activists into competitive politics”.
Speaking about the tasks required to politically mobilise Congress, Palshikar talks about how it must go about forging alliances and why it must stop claiming that it will lead them.
Palshikar also speaks about Congress’s ideological message. He asks: “How is the party going to awaken the masses on questions of crony capitalism and communalism? This question remained unaddressed at the session … criticising the BJP … is easy but making sure that the average Hindu is convinced that being anti-Muslim is not necessary for being a good Hindu or a good nationalist is a difficult task.”
Right at the end of the interview, Palshikar talks at length about Rahul Gandhi. He believes that, theoretically, Rahul Gandhi has the capacity to determine the future of the party but, he adds, that will only happen if Rahul Gandhi goes about this in a very different way to the one he has presently adopted and at a greater speed. Again, rather than paraphrase Palshikar, please watch the interview to understand his critique of Rahul Gandhi.
One of the most important things in this interview (in the section where Palshikar is talking about how Congress must convey its ideological message about communalism) is the professor’s explanation of why he thinks Rahul Gandhi and Congress as a whole are doing this incorrectly. Here, Palshikar explains, in some detail, how Congress should tackle the challenge of Hindutva. In a nutshell, it’s not by flaunting its own Hindu credentials but by speaking about Hinduism and what it stands for and what it requires of its adherents in a very different way.