Beyond Virbhadra: Congress must usher in a generational change in Himachal Pradesh
Defeated in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, it is time for the Congress to chalk out its future course. And the clamour in the Congress’ rank and file is that the party must go in for a generational change.
Whether the party high command is farsighted enough to see this or not, it is high time that the affairs of the party are handed over to a youthful team. “The era of the leaders like Virbhadra Singh and Vidya Stokes who are in their eighties is over. The party has to go into the hands of the youngsters if it is to move ahead with changing times,” pointed out a political observer.
“It is very simple to understand the need for a young leadership. The youngsters in a family interact very little with their grand and great grandparents. They are more comfortable interacting with their parents or elder siblings. The same holds true for a party. In a state where 60 per cent of voters are in the age group of 18 to 45 years, the party leadership can at the most be in the fifties. The voters want accessibility now and the party high command has to understand this,” says a Congress leader.
He further pointed out that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appointing a young chief minister in Jai Ram Thakur and his Cabinet also being relatively younger, it becomes all the more important for the Congress to put forward a youthful profile.
“We have to now look for a revival starting 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Out decline started with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that culminated in the recent assembly polls. By infusing fresh blood into the leadership slots and also into the organisation we have to start with improving our tally in the next Lok Sabha elections,” the leader added.
The Congress workers also feel that in the hanging times there is no scope left for factionalism in the party. The party president Rahul Gandhi has to ensure that the leadership remains united and the hierarchy is not challenged on the ground.
All the eyes are now on the election of the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader who will be donning the cap of the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the state Assembly. The names doing the rounds are that of state unit chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, Mukesh Agnihotri, Ram Lal Thakur, Asha Kumari and Harshvardhan Chauhan. Sources say that the former chief minister Virbhadra Singh is also eying the slot. A meeting to elect the CLP leader is slated to be held on Thursday with the state in-charge Sushil Kumar Shinde as the observer. He will be assisted by former Maharashtra minister Balasaheb Thorat.
Going by the Congress culture, it is likely that the high command be asked to nominate the person for the post. In that case it remains to be seen which way the high command goes. “It is expected that the new CLP leader will be from among the younger lot. This will send a very positive message among the workers and the supporters,” said a Congress functionary.
Another thing that the Congress needs to do is to strengthen its organisation. “Having come up from the ranks Sukhu has done quite a lot on this front. This needs to be taken further now as a part of the party's long term strategy. It would be much better if the party starts giving more and more responsibilities and tickets to contest various polls to people who rise through the party organisations like the National Students Union of India (NSUI), Youth Congress and Sewa Dal,” points out an observer based in Shimla.
The grand old party's leaders in the hill state also need to shed the elitist image that they have acquired over the years. “Gone are the days when victory by default was assured. The time has come that the party leaders have maximum connect with the masses and are more grounded. Look at the way people stood by the lady constable who had slapped back senior party leader Asha Kumari after she was assaulted by the latter for not being allowed entry to the venue in Shimla where Rahul Gandhi had come to evaluate the party's defeat in the recent polls. Rahul reportedly chided his party leader for her act also gave a positive message,” said an observer in Shimla.
The observer further pointed, “The Congress workers on the ground are also upset in which Rahul failed to even acknowledge their presence at the venue. He could have come out and at least waved at them. Compare this with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who knows the tricks very well. He stopped outside the Indian Coffee House to have a cup of coffee knowing this would make news. He kept waving and even chatted with a few people. The Congress has lots to learn from him.”
During his recent visit Rahul spelt out his priorities saying that only those leaders who enjoyed a clean image and had connect with the masses would be given eminence in the party. “Indiscipline will not be tolerated and all dedicated and sincere party workers will be given respect and due recognition,” he reportedly said in his address. He said the party leaders and those in the government had become arrogant and lost connect with the masses, and that had led to the defeat of the party. The party president also said the Congress would provide all possible opportunities to young and energetic leaders, who come forward and serve the party.
How much of this is implemented in letter and spirit remains to be seen. Several Congress candidates who had lost in the recent polls complained to him that senior party leaders had backed Congress rebels against the official party candidates.
The Congress in Himachal is down but not out. All its leaders need at this point is to pull up their socks and start preparing for the 2019 parliamentary poll battle. They will have to be more proactive and receptive to the people's aspirations given the fact that they will be up against an upbeat team of the BJP with a person like Jai Ram Thakur who has a strong RSS grooming at the top of the government.