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Last Updated Sunday April 09 2017 12:34 PM IST

The crisis of democracy

K Roy Paul
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'Who is the joker of the year? We may have to wait till the end of the year to make that choice. Who is the joker of the year in Kerala? Seeing the drama being played out in KPCC it would appear that we may not have to wait that long to make this choice.'

I would have written thus if I were writing a humour column. This, however, is not about jokes and jokers but about the future of Indian democracy. The appointment and continuance of V.M.Sudheeran as KPCC President are just symptoms of a greater malady that has afflicted Indian National Congress, the political party that ruled India for the major part of her existence as an independent nation.

The total dependence on dynastic succession in the Nehru-Gandhi family is only one aspect of this malady. Over the years a coterie of sycophants have gathered around the High Command feeding stories that are pleasing to the ears and dismissing any negative reports as baseless.

The effect of the rootless wonders who surround the leader is a gradual increase in the distance of the leader from the masses. Feedback through leaders of some pre-selected NGOs cannot bridge this chasm and can never be a substitute for the organic connect with people.

I have had the privilege of knowing Sonia Gandhi a little and of discussing a wide range of subjects on a few occasions. The general impression about Sonia Gandhi was that of a foreigner with no clue about the Indian psyche.

In one-to-one meetings, however, I found her extremely well informed about the minutest details of local politics in different states, quite at ease in conversing in Hindi and, above all, very warm, graceful and courteous in her demeanour.

I am told that she can be quite curt and businesslike in dealing with politicians and others who come for help while being very kind in dealing with the poor.

These qualities made her popular with a lot of apolitical people and the common man in spite of her inability to deliver extempore speeches like Narendra Modi.

The twin headed governance was, however, a failure. The Manmohan-Chidambaram team wanted to move in one direction and the roadblocks put up by the old fashioned socialists and jholawalas in with the quiet approval of Sonia Gandhi led to policy paralysis and worse.

Nevertheless the economy was cruising well until Pranab Mukherjee replaced Chidambaram. Pranab's stint as finance minister was a total disaster and put the economy in reverse gear.

Add to this the rampant corruption, partially tolerated under coalition compulsions, and the UPA II had a perfect recipe for unpopular governance.

The induction of Rahul Gandhi into a decision making role was the last nail in UPA's coffin. The young man just does not have the mettle to be a national political leader and many sensible people, after meeting him, have come away with the impression that he does not even care to learn.

The choreographed visits to many places like a UP Dalit's hut or the family of a farmer who committed suicide did not help to build the desired rapport between Rahul and the people.

People watched the fun just as spectators watch the side shows of circus jokers. The cumulative impact of these visits, the occasional interventions in Parliament, the public display of arrogance and disrespect for the Prime Minister in tearing up a bill approved by the cabinet and the interview to the Times Now TV was that the people of India turned away from Rahul Gandhi with a finality that cannot be changed.

So long as Rahul Gandhi continues to call the shots, Indian National Congress can have no hope of a revival. TJS George, veteran journalist and objective observer of politics, said in a recent article that the Gandhi-Nehru family should move out of politics firmly and finally. Even giving up the posts of President and Vice President will not be enough to revive GOP now.

Normally, one would think that the decline or revival a political party should be the concern of that party's supporters. People who are unaffiliated to any political party should not be worrying about the fate of Indian National Congress but for the spectre of the national politics deteriorating to a confrontation between BJP, the only surviving national party, and a ragtag confederation of regional satraps.

A vibrant democracy requires that the people should have the option of choosing one or the other of at least two national parties. The long reign of Congress at the Centre was the legacy of its role in the freedom struggle and the tragic end of Indira Gandhi but this should be seen as an aberration.

No party can or should remain in power forever. Prime Minister Modi may continue to be popular for another 10 years. What happens after that?

We have seen how national interests get compromised when regional parties dictate foreign and defence policies as DMK did in the case of Sri Lanka and Trinamool in the case of Bangladesh. India, therefore, needs two strong national parties with a degree of convergence in areas of economy, security and foreign affairs.

Both parties should also promise the people of India that they would abjure obstructionism even when they are voted out of power. If you leave aside the communal fringe elements that try to dictate terms in the cultural field, there is not much difference between BJP and Congress. I have worked as Special Secretary and Secretary under the previous NDA government and in different capacities under Congress governments at the Centre and in Bihar.

Leaders may adopt public postures as deemed necessary in their political calculus but individually they are all the same. Advani and Jaitley are no more communal than Digvijay Singh.

That was why KC Pant or Bhagwat Jha Azad or Jagannath Mishra had no qualms in crossing over to the BJP after having occupied senior positions in Congress governments.

It will be easier to revive Congress than build up another political party with national footprint. This too will take time as the High Command has systematically eliminated leaders with grass root support and a new generation of mass leaders will have to come up now.

Where does it leave Congress in Kerala? First, Sudheeran should be replaced by someone who can place interests of the party above his own. Secondly, there should be a generational shift in leadership. Antony, Ravi, Oommen Chandy and Sudheeran should encourage a new leadership to emerge on their own through a genuine democratic process instead of sponsoring favourites. Thirdly, the next elections should be fought under the new leadership.

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