A common quality among extinct species has been their steadfast refusal to change in the face of irrelevance.
The Indian National Congress may still be a good distance from being extinct, but one cannot accuse it of not trying. In spite of resounding electoral defeats, it shows the great aversion in putting party above the Family, merit above surname, opportunity above sycophancy, and a larger vision over pusillanimity.
The latest is prominent Congress leaders’ decision to boycott the banquet for US President Donald Trump hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury all declined the invitation.
Because Congress president Sonia Gandhi was not invited.
Is it mandatory to invite an Opposition party leader at government-level events of two nations? Certainly not.
Congress’ schoolboy petulance points to its four grave and growing weaknesses.
First, despite growing irrelevance — latest instance being the party getting wiped out from Delhi in the recent elections despite ruling it for years — Congress still puts the Gandhi-Nehru family above the party.
While it claims there is a precedence of inviting the Opposition party chief to such occasions, it is difficult to find one. During both George Bush’s 2006 and Barrack Obama’s 2010 visits, chairperson of the then principal Opposition, NDA, was not invited to the banquet.
Second, such puerile behaviour on occasions of national significance reflects very poorly on the Congress domestically but also sends out a frayed image of the party and its culture in international diplomatic circles.
Third, at a time when India’s Opposition space is seeing the slow maturing of politicians like Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal and the downplaying of antics by Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, Congress is further ceding ground by such leaps of immaturity. The presence of a former prime minister and an ex-CM from the Congress at the event would have increased its gravitas, made it look like the grand old party it is and not a johnny-come-lately.
The party has been getting wiped out from states it had ruled for decades. More than being thumped by Modi’s BJP at the Centre, the Congress’ existential threat comes from being gradually outplayed by regional parties in the Opposition space.
And fourth, while the sycophantic DNA of the Nehru-Gandhi’s Congress has not mutated, murmurs of dissent over leadership are rising, especially after seniors like P Chidambaram were found celebrating AAP’s victory despite his own party getting routed in Delhi. Younger leaders like Milind Deora and Sandeep Dikshit have spoken out openly.
At this hour, a leadership seen as selfishly obsessed about family entitlements is only going to hasten the process of atrophy. If there was one urgent time for the Congress to throw away that remote, it is now.
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