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Indian National Congress must end its sycophantic dynastic succession complex

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Dear President, CWC and AICC members of Indian National Congress Party,

In Indian National Congress party someone from Nehru Gandhi Family has been the party President for close to 38 years. Unlike the early days when the party used to have internal elections every year enabling smooth change of leadership, in the recent past, however, the party executives are being chosen by a process akin to nomination. At the top, Sonia Gandhi has been party president for almost 19 years now. Nothing wrong with that as long as that person is democratically elected and under their leadership the party is progressing.

To begin with, it was no surprise that Sonia Gandhi won her leadership election as she was brought into the party as a ready-made head even though she had no prior experience of management. She was considered good enough solely for the reason that she was the wife of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The party was justly ridiculed for its haplessness and the strain caused by this action made some senior leaders to leave the party to form new outfits. It is a rather sad irony that the very reason for which it was claimed that Sonia Gandhi was brought in caused the weakening of the party. To her credit, though, she silenced the critics by keeping the party fold together which was instrumental in bringing the party back to power for two terms. Because of that one single act, her acolytes say that if it wasn’t for her Congress party would not have come to power in the center. Rationalist may say that the victory was possible because the party made some smart decisions to build a grand coalition in addition to exploiting NDA’s over hyped campaign built on “India shining” slogan. Nevertheless, she did enough to bring Congress back to power by holding on to key advisers and trusted their guidance. Once she had the numbers to form the government she made a smart and unopposed move of nominating the alleged architect of India’s liberalisation of economic policies, Dr. Manmohan Singh as her chosen nominee to be the next Prime Minister. Next time around, in 2009, however, the election was won mainly because of the clean image of  Dr. Manmohan Singh, on the back of his successful nuclear deal with USA. Notwithstanding all that, Sonia Gandhi did a commendable job of keeping the party together even at the expense of sacrificing internal democracy.

However, when she took step back and steered in her son Rahul as Vice President, as many Gandhi family loyalists had demanded, things started to go wrong. Although he was credited for some good performance by the party in 2009 general election, particularly in the state of UP, no one knows who the real architect of that success was, as all triumphs in the Congress party are credited to Gandhi family and all failures are owned up by local leaders. The party gave Rahul Gandhi enough time to make his “structural changes” without the change ever being realised. Add to that, his style of stewardship exposed his limitations as a man manager and a political campaigner. The opposition used this lethargy and shrewdly portrayed the party as dynastic and Rahul Gandhi as an unqualified leader - with all the help from Rahul Gandhi himself by not making his own case convincingly in the front of the nation.

Through all of the party’s recent election defeats one increasingly gets the feeling that he gets to run the enterprise without ever being responsible for its performance. In that situation how can he as the supposed next President of the party judge the performance of his underlings? His alleged style of working abstractedly, without being freely accessible to top party functionaries, has brought a weariness and sort of confusion among the ranks. Although an open secret, not a single senior leader has expressed this concern explicitly. The party either fail to understand or to protect their own position do not want to admit as much to him in private. When party loyalists parade in TV studios praising Gandhi family in the absence of any noticeable electoral progress it further alienates the party in the voters mind. After all these years and not since that really awkward interview with Arnab Goswami- which possibly destroyed congress’s hopes of 2014 election- Rahul Gandhi still trying to appeal to majority of  the young Indians - who are increasingly digitally connected, highly opinionated and capable of influencing public discourse,  - by holding public rallies. He doesn’t give TV interviews, his press conference lack any punch and has been late to join twitter and Facebook, the mediums with the help of which BJP continues to make electoral gains. He could not even exploit public resentment towards BJP for its partisan and hate fuelled campaigns and anger towards note ban fiasco. Yet he sticks to his style of holding rallies and seems to have no grasp of facts to authoritatively project congress as the better alternative. Despite being ridiculed for there being no 'plan B' in terms of viable alternatives as would be expected from a democratic party, the party fail to admit the bitter truth that Indian National Congress, the grand old party of Indian politics, has been desperately dependent on one family and any calls for change of leadership is constantly attributed to media creation.

In this situation, the question that bothers many a congress supporters is this: why should anybody join Congress party, when the ultimate prize of leading the party and the country is reserved solely for the members of Gandhi family. There is absolutely no mechanism for a common party member to rise through the ranks to become leader of the party - independent of the influence of Gandhi family.

Party elections are no longer held anymore and the fact that is very concerning is that recently Election commission of India asked the party to conduct elections by June 30th, 2017 which were postponed again until the end of the year. To say that Gandhi family is an adhesive that holds the party together may be true in some respect. But the essential question that needs to be answered is: what sort of political party it will be which for the sake of keeping Gandhi family will cause both the exodus of qualified people and block the entry of new generation into its fold?. To act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of, that trick may have won power in the past, but is destined to fail hence forward.

It is utterly sardonic that as unanimously (s)elected (nominated in other words) Vice-President, Mr. Rahul Gandhi calls for structural changes, the party continue to nominate members for key posts. The nominated leaders in turn decide who should be given ticket to fight elections. In this setting, only people close to the sphere of influence or close to the people who are close to sphere of influence end up getting tickets leaving the party workers utterly demoralised before the election. This culture of unanimously electing the leader must stop now as well as the viewpoint that any critical voice is dissent. How can a political organisation survive, if the ideas are not debated and analysed to provide progressive policies.  Just including phrases like ‘secularism’, ‘common man’,  ‘marginalised’, ‘poor’ in the speeches is not going to win elections. Even the poor and the marginalised have aspirations for something grander than what the politicians have to offer now- like loan waivers and reservations.

All the top leaders who were in charge of the states where the party has done miserably both in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections continue in their role.Moreover, it seems that the current Congress Working Committee works solely for the purpose of promoting Rahul Gandhi.

India needs a strong Indian National Congress. However without any meaningful change leading to internal elections the party will continue to suffer. As congress supporters we are ready to swallow further humiliation in short term defeats as long as it triggers a dynamic change for the better.  For the party to survive and to progress it is time that the Gandhi family resign and as a last act reintroduce the now by-passed process of electing the president as per the party constitution by Pradesh Congress Committee (state-level unit) and members of All India Congress Committee (AICC) and not solely by  Congress Working Committee (elected by AICC) as often happens. The policy debate which ensued from such a process will energise the base as well as help de-centralise power away to the state units. 

We, the supporters of party, want the party to break the shackles of nepotism and sycophancy and once again be a political party in the true sense of the word. We want the party to be democratic first and then think about mounting a challenge to come back to power. Promoting inner democracy is the only way if the party wants to succeed nationally on its own terms and not be happy with winning one or two state elections with the help of fickle allies. From the recent elections results, the writing is clear on the wall. There is no alternative. Surely, Congress party cannot not fall any further. Surprisingly, Rahul Gandhi doesn’t see that way. If one cannot be self-critical and analyse, how can he hold others accountable? Does that mean if the party does good it’s because of him and if does badly it is because of local leaders? Annoyingly, after each debacles the state leaders own the responsibility, offers to resign and then somehow reinstated back into sphere of influence in one way or another. How do the supporters know that the party is truly introspecting if nothing changes on the ground? If any party functionary who tells that Gandhi family is the glue that holds the party together, it is either because they are politically inept or are talking in the best interest of preserving their position within the party hierarchy. There cannot be any other rational explanation. Since Rahul Gandhi was given the post of Vice President, the party has just performed badly in each election. Except for Punjab, Congress hasn’t done anything great. The reason: lack of leadership and failing to win the confidence of voters. If anyone thinks that the success in Punjab was because of Rahul Gandhi - that is utter fiction created to keep him in the job. No one knows what might happen if Rahul Gandhi were to leave his post.  There may be setbacks, the party may do even worse than it recently has in the short term. But that pain would be more acceptable than current lethargy that seems to be hanging over Congress party. The restructuring of the party is an experiment that needs to be carried out for the survival of the party if not in the spirit of democracy.

All Congress supporters should ask themselves this one simple question. When was the last time you were inspired by either an interview or a speech given by Congress Vice President? Yet there are many leaders who speak passionately, authoritatively and eloquently about the country and as the voice of the people. However, they have to act subserviently to the people who hold important party posts even though they do not deserve it. In all honesty, can Rahul Gandhi speak eloquently like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Shashi Tharoor; or authoritatively like Dr. Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, Kamal Nath on important matters that people like to hear about. The party is not short of inspirational leaders. In fact it is blessed with them at least for the moment and they are the only reason that party supporters like us still keep faith in the party hoping that not before long it will see its glory days again. This is not meant to embarrass and ridicule Rahul Gandhi. The party supporters even sympathise with him for living under the expectations he has inherited from his family. But we didn’t put the burden on him, he can still be an important leader but for the party to grow he has to take a back seat and now. The void created by lack of correctness within the party has given credence to fake oratory of ruling BJP. The Congress party doesn’t have the luxury to groom Rahul Gandhi. The successive elections should not be treated as a training ground for Rahul Gandhi, and the party and the country can’t afford to wait to give BJP enough space to destroy the secular idea of India. Thus, to become a serious opposition we need to have a true democratic set up internally without any place for sycophancy.

We are even ready to publicly debate Rahul Gandhi and contest him in internal election even if rest of the leadership decides to elect him unopposed and call it a party mandate. The party should recognise that there is a growing constituency of congress supporters who want a working political party based on true democratic principles and that progressive viewpoint is not dissent.

We request all grass root level party workers and supporters of Indian National Congress who are fed up with the systematic manipulation of party constitution to favour one family, and who aspire India to be a truly democratic country where all the political outfits function democratically, to sign this petition to bring about a change in Indian National Congress.

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Thank you.

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