It's good to lose
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Poll reverses could give Rahul the opportunity to remake the Congress
As a Congressman, I greatly welcome Sunday's electoral reverses. I also look forward to our probably occupying the opposition benches after the mid-2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The reason for this paradox is that for at least the last quarter of a century, my party has been in desperate need of a root and branch restructuring. Rahul Gandhi has promised a transformation of both the organisation and leadership of the party. He has spoken, at the moment of electoral defeat, of a "paradigm shift" from "traditional" approaches. He has proposed that the voice of the people be "embedded" in the structure and programme of the party. He has gone so far as to suggest that the 120-year-old Congress has much to learn from the 12-month-old Aam Aadmi Party. All this is in line with the agenda he set himself when he was elected vice president of the party at Jaipur, just under a year ago.
The Congress machinery and platform was transformed from a drawing room party of the late-19th-century emerging professional elite into a mass movement by, first, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and then definitively by Gandhiji, after he took the helm in the wake of Jallianwala Bagh. At Independence, after the initial hiccup of Purushottam Das Tandon's presidency (1950-51), Jawaharlal Nehru converted the mass movement into an efficient nation-making and election machine, which had as its purpose not only the wooing and winning of votes but also the forging of a national consensus on democracy and democratic institutions. This rendered India the only one of the roughly 150 countries that came to some form of liberation or the other after 1947 to have successfully translated independence for the nation into freedom for the people.
That machine collapsed in the 1967 elections, when, for the first time, one could travel from Lahore to Jessore through India without once stepping on Congress territory. The lesson learned was the overthrowing of the old guard (the "Syndicate") and the forging of the radical platform that made Indira Gandhi the darling of the poor. But it also led to the Emergency and what most in March 1977 took to be the permanent political exile of the Congress. Thirty months later, the very electorate that had so definitively given the party a drubbing turned to it in grateful relief, but not before what remained of the old guard had been sent packing.