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The Hindu
The Hindu
Sandeep Phukan

Do young leaders have a future in the Congress?

News Analysis

Do young leaders have a future in the Congress? Grappling with this question, some chose to leave while others, who remain in the grand old party, are worried about an uncertain future. The party's electoral record hardly gives any confidence to the younger lot.

The Congress has lost 39 of the 49 elections held since 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ended the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) 10-year rule. Leaders that the UPA had showcased as Congress' young turks and close to former party chief Rahul Gandhi, have left the party in a steady stream.

While Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, R.P..N Singh are now in the BJP, others like Sushmita Dev and Ashok Tanwar joined the Trinamool Congress.

"I see a different pattern. There are now more opportunities for younger people from a middle class background to occupy major places in the Congress party. They don't need to come from political families," said Manickam Tagore, Lok Sabha member member from Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu.

Known to be close to Mr Gandhi, the Lok Sabha member, who is also AICC in-charge for Telangana, points out that he is a school teacher's son but was given an opportunity by the former Congress chief.

"These [Scindia, Prasada and Singh] were all sons of big leaders and that's why they were given big positions and ministerial responsibilities ahead of other first time MPs," Mr. Tagore added.

Soon after Mr. Singh's departure to the BJP on January 25, Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh, Supriya Shrinate had said, "You cannot be a coward and fight this battle [of ideology]".

On March 13, following the Congress' decimation in the recently concluded Assembly elections in the five States, the Congress Working Committee debated on promoting young leaders and reaching out to the youth.

"Enforce the principle of “perform or vacate” on candidates who have lost elections twice in a row and fix individual accountability on State in-charges," said Jaiveer Shergill, a spokesperson of the All India Congress Committee (AICC).

Several young leaders, however, argue that such talk holds good only in theory but takes a different shape in practice. Young leaders from as far as Assam and Kerala complain that key aides of the Gandhis make their access to the top leadership even more difficult.

The issue of experimenting with fresh faces is also tricky; if the election results go wrong, they are blamed for their inexperience. In the Assembly elections in Kerala last year, the party changed over 55% of the candidates with fresh faces but failed to wrest back the State from the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front.

But the counter argument is that despite having veteran campaigners in Harish Rawat and Digambar Kamat for Uttarakhand and Goa Assembly polls respectively, the party failed to win.

"It is vital that political future of Indian National Congress shines for the future of this country, so that the nation progresses in line with the vision of our great Constitution makers," Mr Shergill said.

The 38-year-old lawyer-turned-politician insisted that he doesn't "weigh his political future on the scale of party’s wins and losses" but offered concrete ideas.

"To begin with, the strategy needs to shift from purely criticising the government or the Prime Minister to setting an alternative agenda, highlighting your vision for governance. Secondly, the stand on issues should be clear rather than mixed signals, especially on issues of secularism and nationalism," he said

Mr. Tagore and Mr. Shergill expressed concern that despite fighting for people' issues like inflation, high fuel prices and unemployment, voters had not reposed their faith in the Congress.

"We need to be more micro in nature and focus on booth-level support. We are still following the 90s model that hawa hamara saath hain (the popular mood is with us) and we will win. This needs to change,"Mr Tagore said

"In Uttarakhand, the difference in total number of votes between us and the BJP is 2 lakhs and there were about 8,000 polling booths. So, it's about 25 votes per booth. In Goa, the difference was one lakh votes. The BJP approached these elections with booth as the central unit," he added.

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