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As leader of the Congress party in India, Rahul Gandhi must re-invent his political formation Image Credit: Gulf News

In a multi-party democracy like India, apart from the constitutional checks-and-balances that exist as part of institutional sanctity, there are also several improvised versions of what one may call a reverse mechanism that often acts as a counter-balance to any executive overreach.

Unfortunately, in India, the world’s largest democracy, this reverse mechanism in the form of an improvised counter-balance to executive overreach has been woefully absent since the Narendra Modi-led government came to power in the summer of 2014.

And the blame for that act of omission lies with the principal Opposition, the Congress party – currently led by party president Sonia Gandhi, but with Rahul Gandhi continuing to be its political nerve centre.

There is an urgent need for the party to have a Shadow Cabinet in India. It is absolutely important that the government is kept on its toes when it comes to framing policies and following up on major decisions.

- Sanjib Kumar Das

If one takes a closer look at the way certain executive decisions have been taken by the federal government since last year, the way certain political developments have shaped up and the way certain foreign policy measures have panned out over the last few months, it is amply clear that the Modi-led dispensation at the Centre has been granted more-than-a free hand in exercising its will and writ on a wide variety of sensitive issues and agenda — without having to confront buffering winds in the form of a reverse mechanism of a political counter-balance.

And that has been made possible primarily because of a Congress in stasis, a Congress in a perpetual state of political drift, caught in the somnolence of a superannuated being.

Lack of a strong voice

While this Congress drift has been a feature of the party since Modi came to power in 2014, it was never more pronounced than in the last one year.

Starting with the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir last August, to the furore over the Citizenship Amendment Act, followed by the Delhi riots this February-March, to the recent Sino-Indian border skirmishes in Ladakh, the lack of a strong voice in the Opposition, the absence of a reverse mechanism in terms of an effective counter-balance, have actually been a blot on the pluralistic ethos of a multi-party system.

The Congress must own up to that lacunae, that political hubris, which in the long run will affect the party’s bid to present itself as a potent alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

And the one reason why this has happened is because of the inability of the party to get out of a regressive mode, its inability to be proactive rather than reactive.

More on the topic

If one looks at the way the Congress narrative has emerged in public domain over the last several months, one shall notice that it has suffered two major slips: Firstly, it has always allowed the BJP to set the agenda for a political debate on the national stage on a multiplicity of issues.

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Congress President Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference at party HQ, in New Delhi. (PTI) Image Credit: PTI

Secondly, even when the party did come out with some semblance of an attempted counter-attack in terms of a political statement, it has mostly verged on the flippant -- hopelessly missing the bite that was expected, the sharpness that was required to cut through the cacophony of routine television debates and take the BJP by the scruff of its neck on issues of ideology and executive integrity.

This was amply evident during the days that followed abrogation of Article 370, during the raging debate over the CAA, the Delhi riots and more recently the clashes in Galwan Valley between Indian and Chinese soldiers.

Turning the debate on its head

On the other hand, realising that it was on a fairly sticky wicket on each of these issues, Prime Minister Modi tried to turn the debate on its head by fielding his National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval — sometimes in the troubled Kashmir Valley, sometimes on the streets of riot-hit northeastern Delhi and sometimes as an interlocutor in Sino-Indian talks over territorial disputes.

This was a clever ploy to make the office of the NSA appear as a fire-fighting unit over and beyond the political establishment, allowing Track 2 negotiation to address a festering wound.

In the case of the Sino-Indian border dispute, Modi’s visit to a forward post in Ladakh, though undoubtedly high on optics, managed to serve one crucial purpose: Leave little or no room for an Opposition-led narrative to coalesce, because by then, the news feeds were all about ‘Modi in Ladakh’!

Need for more matured point-counterpoint

On the contrary, just see how Rahul has reacted to the government’s flip-flop on the issue of reported Chinese aggression into Indian territory in Ladakh. He first said, “Pradhan Mantri ji dariye mat, bahar aiye” (Prime Minister Sir, don’t be afraid, come out).

Thereafter, he took an even worse swipe at the PM, doing more than a wordplay with the name ‘Narendra’ and referring to Modi as ‘Surender’ — the undertone being Modi had “surrendered” to the Chinese!

What Rahul ought to realise is that such click-bait wisecracks may win him impressive follower numbers on social media and generate enough fodder for prime-time TV debates, but his ability to win more votes will forever remain suspect as long as he doesn’t show the intent and resolve for a more matured political point-counterpoint.

With those tangy comments about the PM, all Rahul managed to do was trivialise a highly sensitive issue, dilute the scope for a more aggressive and matured political debate and allow the sub-text to go front and centre.

The net result of this was a massive breather for the government even as there were palpable signs of paranoia in the corridors of South Block in handling the China crisis.

Hedging his bet

To turn the tide, Rahul — who is still the future face of the party, and not Sonia — ought to concentrate on two crucial areas that are within his reach.

First of all, he ought to realise the need to hold organisational elections in the party ASAP. The adhocism that runs deep down the party organisation has only bred more sycophancy and a “Yes Boss” culture.

He has to make sure Congress has only those people as party functionaries whom grass-roots Congressmen want. Secondly, there is an urgent need for the party to have a Shadow Cabinet.

It is absolutely important that the government is kept on its toes when it comes to framing policies and following up on major decisions.

The choice is for Rahul to make: Whether he wants more of the same or chin up and bite the bullet.

Twitter: @moumiayush