Slowly but steadily, India’s Grand Old Party is coming apart at the seams. Every few hours, it seems, someone or the other from the Congress leaves the party. While many of the deserters have joined or are in the process of joining the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party, other parties too have offered space to some of them.

After the Congress showed in the 2019 parliamentary election that it had lost the ability to even strive for power, and after that position was in a sense endorsed by its then president, it was to be expected that the many thousands who had joined the party only for the sake of power, and not out of any ideological conviction, would leave its ranks. As it continues its slide towards obscurity, the Congress must ask itself all the questions the man whose legacy it seeks to claim even today had asked decades ago.

“The Congress will cease to be popular if it cannot deserve popularity in times of stress. If it cannot provide work for the workless and hungry, if it cannot protect the people from depredations or teach them how to face them, if it cannot help them in the face of danger, it will lose its prestige and popularity”, Mahatma Gandhi had said in 1942. Five years later, in 1947, he was even more prescient when he said, “With the advent of power, Congressmen have begun to think that everything belongs to them…But this does not imply that all sense of discipline should be thrown to the winds. Discipline and true humility should be a matter of pride for Congressmen.”

True humility was shed by Congressmen (and women) decades ago, and discipline was lost when leaders in pursuit of personal goals repeatedly split the party to leave behind the shell it today is. As far as a coherent ideology is concerned, the Congress has been in a state of confusion for at least the past two decades if not longer.It is one thing to blame the Gandhi family for making the party a family fiefdom. But they couldn’t have done it by themselves.

It took legions of supine, selfish and venal Congressmen to anoint them virtual leaders for life; these were party members who might have possessed the intellect but lacked the gumption to call the family’s bluff and ask why someone else could not lead the party. Now, perhaps, it is too late. The process of emasculation has been so steady and so relentless that the party lacks a leader who might be acceptable outside a single state.

It is left only with showboats who can be effective in television debates and nowhere else, and even that cadre is beginning to thin out. While historians will continue to debate what Gandhi meant when on the eve of his assassination, he called for disbanding the Congress, the fact is that those who claim to be his successors have nearly achieved this goal, but without devoting themselves to the cause of public service that he held up as an essential virtue.