The Congress has never been just another party; it was a movement of sorts, offering a platform to competing and conflicting ideas, interests and pressure groups. It has contributed leaders who enriched public life through dissent and debate, as Rabindranath Tagore said, ‘Unity is not uniformity.’ That rich organisational tapestry now faces an existential dilemma in the face of a resurgent BJP typified in the stepping aside of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi back in the saddle.
The litmus test in a democracy is never over. The Lok Sabha elections might be over but the Assembly elections in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand this year will give a chance to the parties to redeem their prestige. The Congress does not seem to be prepared for it. In Haryana, party strongman Bhupinder Singh Hooda doesn’t seem to want state Congress chief Ashok Tanwar to lead the party into the polls. With Sonia back, he sees a ray of hope, even as Tanwar is believed to enjoy proximity to Rahul Gandhi. Hooda wants to position himself as the party’s sure bet to power and with a Jat leader, Birender Singh, already in the BJP fold, wants to steal the BJP’s thunder by voicing support for the scrapping of Article 370. In Jharkhand, too, the state party chief has resigned and RPN Singh is there to paper over the differences. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena and the BJP have planned their yatras but with five working presidents, the Congress is yet to formulate its strategy.
With a determined BJP trying to make inroads, as seen in Karnataka, the Congress leaders should first come together. Organising memorial events across the country to mark Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary is not enough. While criticising Nehru, the BJP has tried to appropriate Sardar Patel. This, the Congress should not allow by invoking pride in its leaders and their achievements. Being out of power sometimes is an opportunity to rediscover one’s core strengths. More so for the Congress!