Can Jeremy Corbyn solve the Congress’ problem?

Rahul Gandhi has faced the brunt of a media onslaught, including social media, like no other living political leader. The handing over of the baton of the presidency of the Congress back to his mother has come in for ridicule, as it must. But this should be a moment for pause and reflection for a party that seems to have a death wish. It might not be a stretch to say that the Congress for years now has been led by the Gandhi family triumvirate, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra. Whileit is quite obvious that each has a different style and approach, their bane has been their lack of  ideological moorings.

After many hiccups, false starts and lessons in compromising, a Congress-led government finally emerged in 2004. The United Progressive Alliance – I government required the support of the Left Front. The Left’s support  does not take away the fact that the Congress itself led by Sonia Gandhi was keen on ushering in progressive policies and politics, despite its government being led by India Inc’s poster boy Manmohan Singh. The long and short of that story is that, with the Left outmaneuvered into ending its support to the UPA-I government, the Manmohan Singh regime felt unshackled enough to became the finest advocate of neo-liberalism in the country. Something did result from all that bending over backwards to an insatiable India Inc: the grand old party slumped to its worst electoral performance, accompanied by an ominous surge in majoritarian communalism.

The limitations of Sonia Gandhi’s UPA-1-style progressive politics is obvious. It was a top-down attempt, after all. The Congress, as a party, had not arrived at, say, either the RTI or MGNREGA, through political action but as a result of political pressure from its allies the Left parties and progressive movements in the country. 

Nevertheless, having ridden back to power on the strength of those progressive schemes and policies, UPA —II quickly descended to pleasing the “Insatiables”. The novice party-president-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi’s, utterances, disappearances, appearances and so on, which were seen as an extended political initiation, didn’t instil much confidence in an electorate in a hurry. The party apparatchiks saw signs of recalcitrance in the prince too and didn’t mind teaching him a lesson or two either. 

An emaciated Congress has not recovered since; it has neither political gumption nor foresight. A rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi, however, has been leading the charge. The 2019 Lok Sabha results, in all its starkness, again showed what really ails the Congress. The decision of Rahul Gandhi to quit as president of the party was a good one. His request not to consider any other family member, was a good one too. Sonia and Rahul’s recusal from the Congress Working Committee gave out positive signals. But an hour before midnight, the CWC in all its incorrigible glory merely did what it does best, get another Gandhi back at the helm. This one act makes it abundantly clear that the CWC is incapable of understanding the state the Congress party is in.

Even as Sonia Gandhi “reluctantly” takes over as interim president, one can hope that Rahul Gandhi’s demand that the party president be elected and not selected, leads to a “Jeremy Corbyn” moment for the Congress party. 

New Labour renewed itself by electing a veteran activist and backbencher to lead the party. A surprise result that hasn’t gone down well with the Blairite wing of the Labour Party. But Corbyn’s emergence hasn’t been about the person, Jeremy Corbyn; it has been about a concerted ideologically driven battle to rid the party of its “New Labour” moorings, something that had led the party’s leadership to play second fiddle to the US’ “War on Terror”.

Corbyn has had to face embarrassing and bruising battles within his party, much more than he has had to face the wrath of his political adversaries. But every time he has been attacked, he has with seasoned ease refused to fall into his opponents’s well laid out traps. He has stuck to setting the agenda. He has offered hope to hundreds of thousands of people, reflected in the surging membership numbers of the Labour party. He has been busy fighting for victory in the next elections. He’s not going to waste his time on a populist, rightwing leader like Boris Johnson, too. He is going to talk about the women and men who need a political alternative to what has been on offer the past few decades.

There’s a template for the Congress.

Can the grand old party of India dip into its past and see if it can arrive at ideological clarity? Its genuflection before India Inc hasn’t seen a concomitant amount of cash flowing into its coffers.  Why bother trying to impress them then?
Again, looking at Corbyn: when the Israeli lobby tried hard to fix him, it sounded naive that he stick to his truth. He stuck to his commitment to Palestine. In these times such obduracy can be suicidal. But not for Corbyn! 

In the very least, the people of the UK are being offered an alternative.  If 10 Downing Street in currently inhabited by a farcical populist leader, so are his ilk at the helm in important capitals of the world, but there are alternatives on offer. In the US itself the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have offered refreshingly bold alternatives to “rabble rousing,” recipes to come to power.

If India’s mainstream Left has become slimmer in the recent elections, it only means that the genuine concerns of the toiling masses is heard even lesser now. 

Thus the role of the Congress for the political health of this democracy is important. Allowing the first family of the party to play musical chairs isn’t just a matter of concern for pucca Congress supporters, but also for those keen to ensure that India remains a vibrant democracy. 

Therefore, the Indian National Congress needs to look at London afresh. The Labour Party has inspired political leaders of yore. Maybe it is time to look at one man’s tryst with destiny in London.