Why does India’s oldest political party need to reinvent the wheel?

Ever since the government of India was re-elected over 2 months ago on 23rd May 2019, a fascinating and a worrying story has emerged on the opposite side. After a second successive debacle in the

Ever since the government of India was re-elected over 2 months ago on 23rd May 2019, a fascinating and a worrying story has emerged on the opposite side. After a second successive debacle in the general elections (Lok Sabha Elections 2019), the oldest political party in India is in shambles and is struggling to create a strong foothold to secure its future. It has seen a large exodus of party members since that dreadful evening of 23rd of May and is in danger of complete collapse if the right steps are not taken at the earliest. It’s a pity seeing a party who has ruled India for more years than any, facing an existential crisis due to failed leadership and lack of genuine talent. That the party is in the biggest mess in its history would be an understatement.

As is the case with any failure in different fields, be it corporate, sports, business, etc. the bitter truth is that the onus lies on the top management. Politics is not very different from other professions or industries. Maybe it is the lack of this awareness in the political spectrum, where entitlement or lax attitude and arrogant mindset have sown deep seeds. During my time in the corporate world, I have seen top leadership change not once, but 4 times due to lack of performance and growth. Then it begs to ask a question as to why it should be any different in the political world where the stakes are even higher as any failure in a party’s performance affects the choice and lives of millions of people. Failing to deliver once is acceptable, failure to do it twice and that too consequently demands big changes.

Looking closely and studying the trend for the past couple of decades, it is evident that the opposition party has made some fundamental mistakes in the way they have functioned. These are:

  1. Lack of succession planning: Not identifying future leaders and building a strong bench strength
  2. Not selecting leaders based on merit
  3. Dependency on one single family. Not showing the courage to choose people outside one family
  4. Not empowering the people at the grass-root level
  5. Lack of ownership at all levels
  6. Allowing complacency creep in and taking the people of the country for granted

I have followed various professional fields over the last couple of decades and have seen more decisive actions taken to enable change than what we see in the opposition party. To make such decisions requires a positive vision, courage, determination and the will to succeed. The “Chalta Hai” attitude that is deep-rooted in the country is rampant in the party to such an extent that they have failed to accept the real problems, sentiments, and aspirations of the population which has resulted in them turning a blind eye towards them. They have followed a non-relevant traditional and outdated approach towards politics without focusing on the changing times and people’s voices. They missed the alarm bells ringing after the 2014 defeat and continued onto the same track, hoping and believing that the same old political tactics would work in today’s fast-changing world. The country has moved on quite rapidly in the past 10 years and unfortunately, the party has struggled to keep pace. We have heard introspection stories in the media, but introspection alone will not get this party out of the deep hole they have dug themselves into. Tangible actions are required.

It will take bold, radical and transformative decisions with honesty and good intentions to survive this downward spiral. Ultimately, a political party should serve the people of a nation, and if this sole agenda is made as a party manifesto (rather than complicated and unrealistic targets), there is no reason why they can once again turn themselves into worthy opponents. It’s time to reinvent the wheel when it comes to turning this party’s fortunes. Let us discuss a few things they can do to achieve this.

In today’s harsh environment, results are what matter and failure to deliver results bring about ruthless changes while keeping in mind the long-term vision and future of any organization. Not all decisions may bring the desired outcome, but at least they give a chance to realize them. Same applies to Politics.

Selection of leadership must be based on merit, strong and long-term vision and alignment to the thoughts and needs of today’s demographics and economics. This is a party which has lagged in all these aspects, so much so that they look far from a cohesive unit having a set strategy and roadmap. The leadership looks casual and disinterested and the rest look scared and unprepared when it comes to matters of national interest. The burden of the last 75 years has pushed the party on the edge of a major identity crisis. In fact, it is this identity that has become the Achilles heel of this party. The identity of a dynasty polity, hesitation to move towards younger, capable, dynamic and relevant leadership, unable to foster an environment of growth where people rise through the ranks to take on leadership roles are all aspects of the same problem. Unless the mindset and identity changes, there is little chance to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Remember that crisis brings opportunity. And whoever takes advantage and changes with changing times eventually succeeds.

It is critical for the nation to have a strong and capable opposition that can contribute effectively towards nation-building especially in the coming years where we have a ruling party with a complete majority. What this party needs to understand is that the younger population admires and rewards vision, performance, strong leadership, tough decision making, and innovation. But mostly it admires merit-based leadership. Even a young software engineer working in an IT company is rated and rewarded based on his or her performance and skills. Then why should our leaders be different? Take examples of Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, etc. who have risen through the ranks after performing and delivering at all levels before going on to lead some of the biggest corporations in the world. They have huge support and admiration across the new generation of India. And this exact philosophy must be ingrained in all political parties. A seismic cultural change is the need of the hour.

Looking 10 years ahead and planning a world with new leadership and passing the baton for a bright future is what succession planning is all about. The opposition party needs to be privy of that. However, in the world of politics, even 10 years is a long time and things can change very quickly in a short period of time. Hence having the right people at the right moment to latch on to the opportunity is vital for the party to succeed in the coming years. And this must start now.

Empowering the right people within the party and making them own their decisions is how a party can develop strong and confident leaders. Constantly keeping an eye out for the changing world and bringing in performance-based metrics will ensure people right from the ground level are held accountable. Effective training from a young age to build organizational, leadership and people management skills will ensure the right people are rising the ranks to take up leadership roles. Benchwarmers who have settled into a position for long without contributing significantly and have taken things for granted need to be shown the door.

Ultimately, it is about a changing India. An India which expects growth and prosperity needs new age political leadership that it can rely on. It needs strong and efficient leaders who are aligned to the bright future of the country with modern thinking and working methods. Can the opposition party take a leaf out of these expectations and turn around their fortunes for the betterment of the country? Can they align to the changing times and make the right decisions? Can they enable an internal party framework and structure that allows for young talent to emerge and turn into outstanding leaders? Can they work like a corporate environment where performance and talent are rewarded? Can they reward merit and leave the autocratic leadership behind to meet people’s expectations? It’s a long and painful journey that will require tremendous dedication and commitment.

Only time will tell if they are up for a fight or not.

5 thoughts on “Why does India’s oldest political party need to reinvent the wheel?

  1. Your thoughts are good but the main point is that this party was built on the principles of nepotism. And history has proved, from the times of Ramayana & Mahabharata, that nepotism politics has always failed. When the roots of any plant are of fibrous type, they can easily be uprooted without much efforts and thats exactly what Congress is destined for. No matter how much you try to revamp the party, its never going to succeed. Since the root system cannot be changed to a taproot system on which BJP works. What you are trying to say to convert the fibrous roots to adventitious which is humanly not possible. I completely agree with you that India should have a very strong opposition for her to prosper but I reckon Congress is just not the right choice and they have been continuously proving it in past few years. Unless and until nepotism is not finished from this party, it won’t succeed and looking at the current condition I don’t think its going to change for next 1000 years.

    1. Even though I understand in its current state, Congress may not be the right candidate for a strong opposition, but they are the only ones who can claim to be a national party apart from BJP. Rest of the parties are mainly regional and have very limited agenda’s and vision. It will be very difficult, but they have to do it to survive. Hence, Congress needs to get their act together, get rid of nepotism (as you mentioned) and become a new age party.

  2. The biggest problem is post 2000 the milleniels which is largest voters don’t know who Nehru or Indira Gandhi was..You can’t keep on asking votes on their names anymore. The you generation wants to know show me what you can do for me! We don’t care about history and show me evidence / proof. Manmohan in public said I alone can’t fight corruption while Modi promised he will take a shot at it. Remember ‘Hope is a good thing!’ ,😏 we need leadership to give hope and promise development.

    1. You are correct that millennial’s don’t care who was who 50 years ago. Its all about what can the Political leaders do for them in the future. Hope is the best thing in any way of life, but even more so in a developing country like India.

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