Priyanka Gandhi Vadra shows what Congress leaders need to do in opposition

There is no dearth of opportunity to fight for justice in an unequal and unjust India. The Congress must continue to fight for the common man, fight his battle and voice his frustration

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra greets supporters during election campaign for Lok Sabha polls, in Raebareli (PTI)
Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra greets supporters during election campaign for Lok Sabha polls, in Raebareli (PTI)

Zafar Agha

Can you imagine India without the Congress Party? Perhaps no Indian, barring Narendra Modi, can perceive India without the grand old party. After all, whatever India we have is largely courtesy the Congress. But, frankly, post 2019 elections we are living in an India where the Congress presence is minimal. Except for few odd noises inside the Parliament, Congress is in a limbo. It’s not a very pleasant situation because democracy without a thriving opposition could turn into autocracy. No sensible Indian would like such a situation to linger for long.

So, the entire liberal constituency in the country wants the Congress to revive and revive quickly. But how to revive the Congress? It is a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Amidst such unease and growing confusion about the party’s revival plans, Priyanka Gandhi seems to have shown the light. Her insistence on not leaving Chunar, where she was detained by Uttar Pradesh Police, without meeting families of the victims of a massacre in Umbha village in Sonebhadra district, and her success in making BJP in the state to blink first, has a clear message that the road to the party’s revival lies in going to the people directly and taking up their causes.

What Priyanka did at Chunar last week was not unique to the grand old party. She did in fact what her grandmother had done during her days in the opposition between 1977-80. Remember the post-1977 election. The very name of the Congress was considered a sin in the aftermath of the Emergency. Even Indira Gandhi’s credibility as a leader had nosedived. But the same Indira Gandhi manged to build a new Congress in less than a year after her defeat. She also wrecked the popular Janata Party government in less than two and a half years after it assumed power. And, Indira was back as the Prime Minister of the country in 1980 with a Congress Party that was kicking and alive.

Incidentally, no one remembers Indira Gandhi as an opposition leader. Both her admirers and critics judge her only as the Prime Minister. But she was one of the most successful opposition leaders in post-independent India. Political pundits had written off Indira Gandhi after her debacle in 1977. But she was back in power in less than three years after her inglorious exit. It was no mean a feat for an opposition leader.

But how did Indira Gandhi manage it? She was with the people all the time when she was leading the Congress as an opposition Party. Her first foray to the court of the people after 1977 was when a year later almost the entire north and eastern India was submerged under flood waters in 1978. She caught the then Morarji government napping in flood relief. She rushed to flood affected villages and towns and reassured the people with her sheer presence. Indira Gandhi took no time to reach people across India wherever any injustice was committed against them. People still remember her elephant ride to Belchi in Bihar where Dalits were killed like tribals were killed last week in Sonbhadra.

Old timers in Congress point out that Indira after winning her parliamentary seat in a by-election from Chikmangalur in Karnataka attended parliament only once after taking oath. Rest of the period she was all over the country amidst the people. She was clear headed that road to electoral victory did not lie inside Parliament or in Delhi. It passed through the towns and villages where a majority of the voters cast their votes. She was with them all through her political stint as an opposition leader. And, the people rewarded her with victory in the 1980 parliamentary elections.

Indira Gandhi during this period between 1977 and 1980 is a role model for any opposition party. Congress needs to take a leaf out of Indira’ s book of opposition days to revive itself and ultimately get back to power.

Priyanka Gandhi did in Sonbhadra what Indira Gandhi did in Belchi at that time. An opposition leader must be found among people rather than spend his time inside Parliament. Of course, 2019 is no 1978. Every time in politics demand a different strategy. But no opposition strategy can succeed without taking the people along.

Priyanka fought for the peoples’ cause in her own way and forced the Yogi government to take remedial action against injustice. It is Priyanka’s victory and the common man not just in Sonbhadra but elsewhere will not forget it in a hurry.

But just Sonbhadra will not do to revive the Congress. The party leadership need to be constantly with the people like Indira Gandhi was in her opposition politics days.

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