Why the wait for Rahul Gandhi will see the end of Congress

Anand Kochukudy
Anand KochukudyNov 08, 2016 | 19:06

Why the wait for Rahul Gandhi will see the end of Congress

Rumours were rife in Lutyens' Delhi since October 2016 about the impending ascension of Rahul Gandhi as the Congress president and many dates, including November 19, were floating around. A couple of Congress general secretaries too added fuel to it by not denying the matter, and one of them even went to the extent of saying that it was only a matter of time before the D-day. All eyes were on the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting held on November 7.


It did not come as a surprise that party chief Sonia Gandhi chose to give it a miss and, in her absence, Rahul Gandhi chaired it. But by afternoon, there were mixed signals when it emerged that the working committee had opted to extend the term of Sonia Gandhi as the president and also decided to seek another year from the election commission to complete the organisational election.

The working committee began with Rahul Gandhi's speech, followed by Dr Manmohan Singh's. AK Antony spoke next and unambiguously stated that Rahul's takeover should not be delayed for long. It was promptly seconded by Manmohan Singh in what seemed like a choreographed move. Even the working committee unanimously endorsed it.

At Congress' CWC meet on November 8. Credit: IndiaToday.in 

Sources say that Sonia Gandhi's decision to stay away was to set the stage for this major decision as well as to ensure there was no awkwardness or discomfiture among the working committee members. It is well-known that Sonia Gandhi herself has been keen that Rahul take over sooner than later.

Yet, a lot of doubts persist. As late as 9pm on November 7, the Congress leaders were busy consulting one another, with most people unsure about what exactly was going on. Though a general secretary opined that the coronation could happen soon, he ruled out that the event would coincide with the centenary celebrations of Indira Gandhi planned for November 19. But he expressed confidence that it could happen before the end of the year and before crucial states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab go to the polls.


Though AK Antony categorically stated that there is no connection between the two events, many experts have interpreted the mixed message indicating that the change of guard could be delayed to the end of next year to coincide with the completion of organisational polls. However, Antony parried questions about why the CWC had not taken a decision yesterday - despite being authorised to do so - by saying the final call had to be taken by Sonia Gandhi, and the CWC had apprised her of their "collective sentiment".

Vayalar Ravi, not part of the CWC meeting, contented over the phone that it wasn't going to take that long. But even he could not zero in on any date.

The problem with all the commotion is that instead of creating a buzz, it is likely to further confuse the supporters and the cadre who have no idea what is actually going on. The media too is tired of speculating after mixed signals since the clamour for Rahul's ascension has ebbed and flowed for more than five years now.

There is a clear and present danger for the Congress party if this is indefinitely postponed though. In a couple of weeks, the Narendra Modi government will have completed its half term and time is running out for Rahul Gandhi to emerge as the clear alternative. Or the 2019 re-election of Modi would be attributed to the TINA factor and regional players like Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal could emerge as challengers to the incumbent even before 2019.


It is important to recall the events from 2009 to 2012 to analyse why it would be a huge blunder for Rahul to wait any longer to assume charge. In 2009, the Congress managed to win 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state of Uttar Pradesh and it was credited to Rahul's account.

In early 2011, there were many rumours about Rahul taking over as the party Working president and it was amplified around August 2011, when Sonia Gandhi was out of the country to have a surgery. A four-member committee was formed to look after the party affairs that included AK Antony, Ahmed Patel and Janardhan Dwivedi apart from Rahul.

After Sonia Gandhi was back, it was assumed and widely reported that Rahul was going to take charge as the working president of the party and dates like November 14, 19 and December 28 were touted. But polls in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in early 2012 with the anticipation of a much-improved performance led to its postponement.

Congress won merely 28 out of the 404 seats in Uttar Pradesh despite Rahul Gandhi's marathon campaign and his image took a severe beating as another young man, Akhilesh Yadav, emerged as the winner.

10 months and a crucial Cabinet reshuffle in October 2012 later, Rahul Gandhi was finally made the party vice-president in January 2013 at the Jaipur Chintan Shivir - a post last held by Arjun Singh under Rajiv Gandhi in the mid-80s.

Cut to 2016: The last few months, with Sonia Gandhi taking ill in Varanasi and post Rahul Gandhi's Kisan Yatra in Uttar Pradesh, there is an eerie similarity to the chain of events five years back. The Congress party is once again hoping for a great performance in the state, but if opinion polls are to be believed, it is on the verge of yet another rout unless the current rut can be arrested.

There is also a lot of confusion in the Uttar Pradesh Congress with regard to the possibility of an alliance with the Samajwadi Party and the role of strategist Prashant Kishor. Kishor's grand plans for the state post Rahul Gandhi's Kisan Yatra included unleashing Priyanka Vadra in the campaign, much beyond the family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareilly and Rahul's coronation in November.

What has instead happened is that the Congress has been sucked into the power struggle in Samajwadi Party. The wily Mulayam Singh and brother Shivpal Yadav are exploring an alliance with the Congress to prevent the Muslim votes getting transferred en masse to the BSP as the party seems to have been polarised into two factions.

While a mathematical vote calculation would make sense for the two parties to enter into an alliance, possibly with the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) as the third partner and the JD(U) and other smaller parties making up the "mahagadbandhan", Akhilesh Yadav seems to be not so enthused at the proposition as he banks on his popularity and image.

The Congress seems to have abandoned its own plans and there seems to be a lot of confusion in the rank and file on who is running the show in Uttar Pradesh. It was Sheila Dixit who first reacted positively to the proposition of an alliance with the Samajwadi Party as it looked set to split around a couple of weeks back.

Since then, despite Prashant Kishor's outreach to the Yadavs being with Rahul Gandhi's knowledge, a lack of communication and late payments to Kishor's I-PAC and subsequent media reports have ensured that the Congress party leaders are clueless about the goings on.

It remains to be seen whether the Congress party can come up with quick solutions or would it succumb once again to its own indecisiveness and the internal strife in the Samajwadi Party.

Last updated: November 08, 2016 | 19:06
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