Renewal of Leadership for Party Survival


The Indian Congress Party is in the throes of a meltdown over its disastrous performance in the recent Bihar elections and in four other states. The performance of the Congress in the Bihar polls, winning only 19 out of the 70 seats it contested, has led to many senior Congress leaders, who were already on a warpath over the “organisational mess in the party”, to speak out against the senior leadership of the party. Former Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has joined the ranks of 23 senior Congress leaders, who had on 23rd August written a letter to Sonia Gandhi and demanded sweeping changes in the party’s functioning.

Chidambaram has condemned the Congress’ poor organisational strength on the ground and mentioned that a comprehensive review is needed to reflect on the defeat. “These results show that the party either has no organisational presence on the ground or has been weakened considerably. Why we lost despite being so close to victory is something that needs comprehensive review,” the Rajya Sabha MP was quoted as saying by the Times of India. Earlier, senior Congress member Kapil Sibal had launched an attack on the top brass and declared that the people no longer view the party as an effective alternative in the political spectrum.

The Indian National Congress is a political party with widespread roots in the subcontinent. Founded in 1885, it was the first modern nationalist movement to emerge in the British Empire in Asia and Africa. The Mauritius Labour Party (MLP) was founded on February 23, 1936, and like the Congress it has straddled the past and the present and dominated the political landscape for many decades, that is up to 2014, after leading the country to Independence in 1968. Besides having an illustrious past, it has pioneered many social, political and economic developments. However two consecutive debacles at the polls – in 2014 and 2019 – have left the party in a “precarious predicament”, as stated by Rama sithanen in last Friday’s interview in these columns. Like the Indian National Congress, it runs the risk of losing its relevance in Mauritian politics.

Rama Sithanen is of the view that the “MLP has arguably a very simple choice to make. The interests of the party, of its electorate and the country must prevail over personal considerations. Either it adapts and reforms and becomes electable again or it runs the risks of staying in the opposition and be marginalized… Banking on the unpopularity of Jugnauth, on fraud, corruption, and poor economic results may help but is not sufficient for the Labour Party to be back in office.

“It must do its self-introspection and embrace a new paradigm in terms of leadership, people, ideas and policies to become the broad church again. Difficult for some, painful for others but absolutely necessary to become an attractive, effective and electable alternative to the MSM… With the current leadership of the Labour Party, I believe it will be a repeat of the last four elections… Yet it could all be different. An informed change in leadership opens up vast opportunities for the Labour Party to become electable, either on its own or in an alliance. Many support the LP but not its current leadership. The interests of the party should prevail over personal ambition.”

Rama Sithanen is voicing out publicly what has been said earlier by Yousuf Mohamed regarding the need for the current leadership to give way to another generation of leaders. In other words, “to remove itself from active politics, and merely serve as the guiding force for politicians who will take the party to a higher orbit”’ It’s for the Party to do its introspection and decide what is in its best interests in the present circumstances in view of the generational change that has taken place amongst its following that, unlike earlier generations of Labourites, may not be as emotionally, politically and therefore unconditionally bound to the Party. The Party may decide to leave it to “experienced minds, experienced hands and those who understand political realities”, as suggested by Kapil Sibal, the Congress party’s articulate lawyer-politician and former cabinet minister for charting the party’s future course, but a change in leadership alone will not suffice.

The times dictate that parties which want to survive should abide by a higher internal democratisation process. The functioning, the finances of such parties, the distribution of electoral tickets, etc., cannot and should not be left to “le bon vouloir” of one individual. Fostering internal debate, adopting clear rules of governance and operating as transparently as possible, promoting meritocracy within the party – that is the level of internal democratisation which is absolutely necessary to cope with an external environment which is becoming increasingly complex by the day as well as cruel in view of the political culture that animates some of its adversaries on the political ring.

This is the ground reality, and unless it is recognised and faced any party will have to contend with the risk of disappearing from the political scene along with its fading leadership.

* Published in print edition on 20 November 2020

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