BJP has one golden rule which proved most helpful and nurturing for the party despite repeated debacle and that is- the leaders above 75 will not get any prominent post. Barring a few exceptions, party has maintained the age bar.
This golden rule has kept the party buzzing with new blood and today it has become the political party with the largest membership, with more members than even the Communist Party of China.
On the other hand, Congress, which used to be BJP’s primary opposition for decades and ruling party of the country for majority of post-independence history, is rotting with old loyalists. Till India was ruled by feudal socialism, having old party loyalists worked in favor of Congress, but with economic reforms and rise of ‘New India’, the very same is working against the party.
Today, India has one of the youngest demography in the world, with average age below 30, which means majority of India’s population is younger than 30 years, while majority of the 55 members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body of the party, are pre-Sonia Gandhi era veterans.
Tarun Gogoi, Harish Rawat, Oommen Chandy, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Manmohan Singh, AK Antony, Ambika Soni, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ashok Gehlot, Anand Sharma, Siddaramaiah were prominent Congress faces from their respective states before Sonia Gandhi became president in 1998.
Out of 55, 20 CWC members are above 75 years, with eldest member Motilal Vora in early 90s. The only CWC members who qualify as ‘youth leaders (that too only in Indian media and politics)’ are Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and a few others special invitee members. In fact, majority of the members and permanent invitees of the CWC are above 70 years.
Congress carries the baggage of being the ‘Grand Old Party’ of India and therefore, since Sonia took over, the old guard has prevailed over the young when there is tussle between the two. The latest example is the political situation in Madhya Pradesh.
Congress won the MP assembly election in 2018, riding on the exception performance in Gwalior Chambal region, family bastion of Scindia. BJP won 107 seats in the 230 member assembly against 114 of the Congress party, which made the government in alliance with BSP, SP, and Independents. BJP won higher popular vote percentage with 41 against 40.9 of Congress party.
The party lost power due to poor performance in northern Madhya Pradesh or the Gwalior Chambal region, where the party won only 7 seats out of 34 against 20 in the last election.
However, despite the fact that Congress won due to Scindia’s leadership and his aggressive campaign in the Gwalior region, he was not made chief minister of the state. Instead, the party chose Kamal Nath, a 73 year old leader who was born in Kanpur.
Moreover, Nath comes from Punjabi khatri family which has no social or political base in Madhya Pradesh. On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh has the second largest Marathi population after Maharashtra, and has considerable social and political influence. Apart from being a Maratha, Scindia has a considerable influence among the Rajputs, who associate themselves with the ruling Maratha community and Scindia dynasty. Any small time political expert would tell you that 49 year old Scindia was better choice for CM than 73 year old Kamal Nath.
But the Congress party could not see this, and made Kamat Nath CM of MP, just because he is family loyalist. Congress’s performance in the Nath’s region was not exceptional, unlike Scindia’s; but Nath has one unique quality of being old time Gandhi family loyalist and therefore he was awarded with the CM seat.
Rajasthan, where the party won in 2018 assembly, mirrors the politics of MP. There too, Congress won under the leadership of 42 years old Sachin Pilot, who campaigned aggressively and is very popular among the constituents. However, the party high command made 68 year old Ashok Gehlot, an old time family loyalist, chief minister of the state.
Amarinder Singh, the chief minister of Punjab, is 78 years old, and the party high command led by Sonia Gandhi has no intention to retire, and probably he will be party candidate for CM in the next assembly election.
On one hand BJP gives forced retirement to the leaders above 70 years of age, while on the other hand, in Congress, a person is considered eligible for some serious responsibility only after 60 years of age. Its chief ministers in three most politically important states of the country are above 60; majority of its state and district presidents are of above 60 years; and probably so are its voters.
Congress has become party by the pensioners, of the pensioners, and its policies and ideology is for the pensioners. Therefore, the party is being rejected in one state after another. Its youth leader and scion of the family, Rahul Gandhi, is too incompetent to lead the party.
Ideally the Sonia Gandhi should have rescued herself from the management of the party and some new leader, who has proved mettle, like Sachin Pilot or Jyotiraditya Scindia should have been made the president of the party. This would have revived the Congress and would also have given a strong and credible opposition, which is need of the hour, to country. But the Gandhi family continues to run Congress like a family fiefdom, and this has resulted in 52 seats in the last general election.
In a ‘New India’, where parties like BJP have put 70 years as age bar, it will be interesting to see whether a party with more than one-third of executive committee members above 70, will be able to survive.