As matters stand, the politics could gravitate towards making a non-Gandhi as the party president.
New Delhi: A clear division has surfaced amongst Congress MPs over the reinstatement of Rahul Gandhi as the party president. The Rajya Sabha MPs, who met through a virtual conference earlier in the week, did not give a thumbs up to Rahul, as opposed to those in the Lok Sabha, who some days ago had endorsed his leadership. However, at the Rajya Sabha meeting, some younger leaders such as Rajiv Satav, wanted the record to be put straight regarding the 2014 Lok Sabha election loss, which they attributed to the performance of the UPA 2 government. The implication was that many of the seniors, who apparently were not supportive of the idea of bringing Rahul back, and thus spoke in ambiguous terms, were as much to blame for the Congress rout in the polls as anyone else.
Significantly, there was nobody who mentioned Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s name as a possible successor to Sonia Gandhi, probably out of fear of upsetting the current interim president. It is a well-known fact that Sonia Gandhi has been pushing for Rahul’s return even though he seems reluctant to occupy the august position. He is comfortable speaking his mind on various issues but is not willing to accept responsibility.
The feedback received by the Congress high command is, that the party workers, by and large, identify themselves with Rahul as and when he speaks out and attacks the Narendra Modi government on various issues. Their view is that he is the only one who has shown ample courage to adopt a critical approach, while most of the seniors, by their conspicuous silence, appear to be colluding with the BJP and are concerned only about their own survival rather than the revival of the party.
Strangely, the Rajya Sabha MPs’ meeting failed to take any stand regarding the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, though party spokesman Jaiveer Shergill and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath have welcomed the bhumi pujan on 5 August.
Most of the Congress workers also believe that the party must support the mandir nirman, and the leadership must take credit for making this possible, given that it was during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as the Prime Minister that the locks to the temple were opened and shilanyas performed. In fact, Rajiv Gandhi had commenced his 1989 campaign from Ayodhya/Faizabad. Therefore, in view of the public mood, the party leadership should take ownership of these two acts to send a strong message to the people.
Unlike the Lok Sabha meeting, the Rajya Sabha interaction did not appear to have been orchestrated. Sonia Gandhi’s principal aide, Ahmed Patel set the ball rolling and said that the new entrants to the House should be given an opportunity to present their opinion. Referring to some other senior colleagues, he said that “most of them could say what they wished in the Congress Working Committee”. Therefore, it was time to listen to the new voices.
Kapil Sibal spoke about the need for a collective leadership and in his inimitable style, Digvijaya Singh, who spoke subsequently, attempted to distort it by interpreting it as an endorsement for Rahul. Ambika Soni, while agreeing with Ahmed Patel, underlined the need for strengthening the party and supported the need for sending leaders to work in the PCCs in their respective states. P. Chidambaram said that he was doing whatever the party asked him to do. Ghulam Nabi Azad was diplomatic and did not commit himself to any position. On the other hand, the younger MPs and the first-time entrants did not shy away from showing their preference for Rahul. Satav, Bora and K.C. Venugopal were amongst them.
In fact, a lot of things have been playing out in the party and misgivings regarding some of the seniors are being expressed openly. Paradoxically, there is no friction between the seniors and juniors, but notwithstanding the nomenclature, there is a faction war going on between those who are with Sonia Gandhi and those who are with Rahul. Rahul’s group, although small, believes that as long as the old guard is there, they will not allow their leader to be reinstated. Something which is also true, going by the feedback from the grassroots.
However, the Sonia brigade, in a more nuanced manner, is hesitant to back Rahul, but lacks the guts to openly endorse Priyanka either. As matters stand, the politics could gravitate towards making a non-Gandhi as the party president, something which Rahul wanted in the first place. In this context, names of both Kamal Nath and former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda keep cropping up.
A section in the party is also of the view that Ashok Gehlot could be a formidable candidate for the position, if he is able to win the ongoing battle in Rajasthan. Rahul is considered by many of the veterans as someone who has failed to keep the young brigade together. In this context, the illustration of Rajiv Gandhi is often given that most of his close friends, deserted him in the end, and he had to finally fend for himself. The same appears to be the case with Rahul. Sonia Gandhi survived for so long since she was dependent fully on party leaders groomed by the late Sanjay Gandhi, and who, over the years, have proved their mettle.
The short point is that the delay in providing clarity regarding the future leadership is costing the party dearly. Unless, some decisive action is taken, the Congress is not going to see happy days for a long, long time.