On the Sunday when the Congress rout in the assembly elections was all over the airwaves, a businessman from Bangalore, a party sympathiser, rang up to share his son’s reaction to Rahul Gandhi’s brief speech to the assembled media corps promising—almost threatening—changes in the Congress that “you can’t even imagine”. The businessman’s son apparently said, “It looks like this guy is used to speaking only to sycophants or servants. There is no hint of humility.” Obviously, the younger generation finds itself unable to be terribly excited by the young Congress leader’s political persona. The next day, a senior public figure who’d been associated with the Congress for over five decades rang up to share a disquieting thought. He said, “For the first time, in this election, I heard the strain: this country cannot be one family’s jagir.”
The two observations aptly sum up the Congress conundrum as the country’s oldest political party finds itself humiliated in the recently concluded elections to the Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan assembly elections. The larger question is whether the party can regroup its forces, ideas and energies in time for the big slugfest in April 2014. In particular, can a family-controlled Congress reposition itself in a milieu and mood that is increasingly tending towards the truly democratic? The answer is: possibly yes.