The sorry state of affairs in the Congress party
The selection of Mr Kharge and Mr Deve Gowda by the Congress and the JD (S) against the BJP’s choice of grassroots workers perfectly sums up the position of these parties in Karnataka in particular, and in the country in general. The sun is setting on the grand old party, as well as on the formerly socialist parties, while the BJP continues to be the party of fortunes.
The senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge is the sole Congress candidate for the Rajya Sabha elections out of a total of four vacant seats from Karnataka. The Congress has decided to support the JD (S) leader and former Prime Minister, H D Deve Gowda, for the second seat. The BJP is in a position to get the remaining two seats. Mallikarjun Kharge is 77 years old now, while former PM Deve Gowda is 10 years older than him. Out of the 5 southern states of India, it is only in Karnataka that the Congress is directly pitched against the BJP. The Congress wants to fight the BJP with septuagenarian and octogenarian leaders in a country that is rapidly becoming younger in its demography. The BJP’s national leadership has grabbed this opportunity and fielded two relatively unknown candidates in the form of Eranna Kadadi and Ashok Gasti, therefore successfully creating an impression amongst the general public that the Congress and the JD (S) are only serving the interests of dynasts, while sincerity and commitment are better reflected in the BJP.
The selection of Mr Kharge and Mr Deve Gowda by the Congress and the JD (S) against the BJP’s choice of grassroots workers perfectly sums up the position of these parties in Karnataka in particular, and in the country in general. The sun is setting on the grand old party, as well as on the formerly socialist parties, while the BJP continues to be the party of fortunes. More than the age of the respected elderly leaders, it is about the waning of their appeal in the community they claim to represent. When he was the Prime Minister, Mr Deve Gowda famously described himself as a humble farmer. Today, how many farmers would be proud of Mr Deve Gowda for identifying himself with the toiling agricultural community of India? Similarly, how many Dalit youths consider Mallikarjun Kharge as their role model in public life? From the Congress point of view, what will the gains be for the party in Karnataka or across India by offering a Rajya Sabha seat to Mr Kharge? A few people may defend the decision as Congress providing representation to the Dalit community in the Rajya Sabha. Make no mistake! Mallikarjun Kharge could become the Congress candidate, not because of his socially deprived past, but because of his rich loyalty to the Gandhi family.
The central leadership of the Congress, rather the high command of the party, should ask itself a simple question or two. One, will the candidature of Mr Kharge and support to Mr Deve Gowda inspire a single person to join Congress, to work for the party, and to defend it publicly against all odds? Two, how helpful will Mr Kharge be in the Rajya Sabha to hold the Narendra Modi government accountable when the Congress already has a plethora of leaders in the upper house? From Dr Manmohan Singh to Ahamed Patel, from P Chidambaram to Kapil Sibbal and from Ghulam Nabi Azad to Digvijay Singh, there is no dearth of talent and experience for the Congress in the Rajya Sabha. At this point, one should also ask how effective, not impressive, Mr Kharge was in the Lok Sabha as the Congress leader of the lower house for a full five years. How much did he tour the country as a leader of the principal opposition party in the Lok Sabha to galvanize public opinion? Did he care to visit Una in Gujarat to stage a sit-in protest against the atrocities against Dalit youth? How many times did he visit students protesting the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula? Yet, Mr Kharge has received a 6 year Rajya Sabha membership as a gift that would be the reminder of darabari culture in the Congress party.
If the Congress is serious about finding out what ails the party, its top leaders should see a connection between giving a ticket to Mr Kharge and the resignation of two MLAs in Gujarat in the backdrop of the Rajya Sabha elections in that state. There is hardly any difference between Mr Kharge and those Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh MLAs who resigned from the Congress. Those MLAs are not loyal to the Congress for their political and material gains. The other is loyal to the Congress for his political and material gains. The actions of those MLAs are meant to provide benefits to the BJP. Many elderly leaders in the Congress today act only for their own benefit, even at the risk of strengthening the BJP. The result of the actions of both types of leaders is the same, i.e. the BJP ultimately benefits from their actions.
Mallikarjun Kharge is just one of the many leaders who are pulling down the Congress party from within for their own survival. If they are proud of their loyalty to the party, they should call it a day in the best interests of the party. Failing that, they can offer to work in the organization until the party returns to the power at the centre. All of them heap high praise on the Gandhi family for its sacrifices over the generations. But none of them would like to sacrifice even a Rajya Sabha seat to provide a chance to either a youngster or a dedicated party activist or a person from a deprived section of society. Since Mallikarjun Kharge’s son is well established in state politics, and thus represents his community in the Congress party, a nomination to someone else from a community deprived of political representation would have served the party’s interests better. The BJP got it right by allocating a ticket to Ashok Gasti, who is going to be the first Member of Parliament from Savitha Samaj (barbers’ community) in Karnataka.
On the other hand, what was wrong in resending IIM alumni Dr Rajiv Gowda for a second term in the Rajya Sabha as a recognition of his hard work and integrity? Not long ago, the Congress desperately sent Ahamed Patel to the Rajya Sabha for a fifth consecutive term but denied a second term to Mr Rajiv Gowda for no reason. The Congress is rewarding those who tasted power throughout their life by riding on the popularity of the Gandhi family. In the process, the party is doing an injustice to those who are willing to stand with it even though there are no immediate green pastures for them. Now, when the Parliament is about to be conveyed, Mallikarjun Kharge will take his oath in the Rajya Sabha as a Congress member. At the same time, former Congress leader Priyanka Chaturvedi will take her oath as a Shiv Sena member from Maharashtra and Jyotiraditya Scindia as a BJP member from Madhya Pradesh. It will be a sobering moment to reflect upon the sorry state of affairs in the Congress party.