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Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh caused a flutter some days ago when he warned fellow Opposition leaders that if they were “going to demonise him (Narendra Modi) all the time, you are not going to be able to confront him”.
He also added that “unless we recognise that he (Modi) is doing things, which people recognise and which have not been done in the past, we are not going to be able to confront this guy”. Congressmen such as Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Shashi Tharoor have defended Ramesh’s remarks and suggested that the party should nuance its criticism of the prime minister.
A flustered Congress leadership, initially, brushed aside the remarks as personal views of the speakers, but it has now sought to discipline the plain-speaking leaders. On Tuesday, the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Mullappally Ramachandran, has sought an explanation from Tharoor, the Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram, for remarks that have been construed as justification of the prime minister.
The Congress, however, should be thankful to Ramesh and Tharoor for flagging a debate on the party’s strategy and tactics against Modi and his politics. Despite the successive drubbing in the general elections, the Congress leadership has refused to reflect on its tactical failures and explained away its defeat on external factors, for instance, the electronic voting machines.
The Congress campaign before and during the 2019 general elections had focussed on Prime Minister Modi, turning the polls into a presidential style contest while claiming that the government was a failure on all fronts. It failed to convince the voters who preferred to endorse Modi’s leadership and governance claims.
While Ramesh wants the Congress to re-examine its stated position on Modi government’s record, including its claims on the delivery of public goods such as cooking gas, housing and latrines, Tharoor has sought to warn about the perils of blind criticism.
What both these leaders seem to hint at is that the Congress’s strategy to focus all its guns on Modi may have backfired and helped the BJP to consolidate its vote. It is an admission that the Opposition’s electoral strategies failed, surely, but to call it an endorsement of Modi or the BJP is a stretch. In fact, a rethink of strategies without abandoning core values may help the Congress — and the Opposition — at this moment to recover lost ground.
However, the instinctive response of many Congressmen seems to be to close ranks with the leadership and stall any introspection. The reluctance for honest debate within the party has only hurt its electoral prospects in the past. It ought to change track, even if that will force the leadership on the backfoot.