Microquakes are indicative of macro faultlines in political geography. Last week, the Congress party once again met with Hindutva—the harbinger of its doom—in the Mumbai local polls, and lost. Victory, any victory, would have vitamin-ised its moribund morale, as new political forces marginalise it, not just on the national scene, but also at the local level.
The ensuing internecine blame games apart, its leadership hasn’t realised the fundamental cause of its decay. The reason goes beyond the inept sincerity of its campaigner-in-chief Rahul Gandhi. He had squandered the fruits of strategic realpolitik, which its ailing party head Sonia Gandhi shaped to rule the country as the moral head of a scam-tainted government for 10 years. UPA-II was the party’s last hurrah. It is being wiped out everywhere; not by Narendra Modi, but by itself.
For the simple reason that it lacks a slogan powerful enough to return it to the national narrative. And the fundamental flaw that the Grand Old Party lacks a Grand New Idea.
In the 60s and 70s, India was reeling under food deprivation, natural calamities and the shadow of war. Lal Bahadur Shastri had marshalled military victory over Pakistan in 1965, after Jawaharlal Nehru first lost part of Kashmir in 1947 and led India to defeat by China in 1961. The country’s weary morale needed a reviving mantra. ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ was it. The slogan summarised the national self-image in a vast topography of agrarian virtue and military hope.
It was the first immortal soundbyte of Independent India. Indira Gandhi, who matured into premiership during the 70s—when 50 per cent of rural India was below the poverty line—decided to fashion herself as India’s Robin Hood, abolishing the privy purse, nationalising banks and shepherding rural reform as the Green Revolution. A Grand Slogan was born, ‘Garibi Hatao’, which finds resonance even today. Though the dream of a Congress-mukt Bharat was midwifed post-Emergency in 1977 by the Janata Party, its quarreling, piss-drinking, backstabbing members were seen as ambassadors of greed and ineptitude.
The slogan writers of the Congress, who had created the grandiloquently servile cry ‘India is Indira’, got to work. The result was ‘A Government that Works’ vis-a-vis a government that didn’t. Then came along Rajiv Gandhi. His war cry was ‘Take India into the 21st Century’. It was the party’s last Grand Idea and last Great Slogan. The credits started rolling since then, and no credit has gone to Rahul yet.
True leaders look to the past for inspiration with eyes firmly set on the future. Modi reflected Indira’s anti-corporate posture and unleashed demonetisation power against black money. He had already taken Gujarat into the 21st century by building a reputation for clean governance, and refueled Rajiv’s technological push through Digital India. Modi’s political shift from pro-urban to pro-rural, and emphasis on national security exemplified by surgical strikes against Pakistan, is a reinvention of ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’. Rahul confronts a formidable foe, a nemesis who has plundered the history of the Congress, packaging it in a form relevant to the times. Unless he hits upon an epiphany that will propel him back into the game, he will be a Leader With a Party and the Congress, a Party Without a Country.