RIGHT Foot Forward
How to Save the Congress: Only a 'Gandhi Mukt Congress' can avert 'Congress Mukt Bharat'
Rahul Gandhi's petulance and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's weakness is no longer the glue that will hold Congress together. The party urgently needs an interim President and real party elections.
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Over the last month, the Congress has been in a state of, err... suspended animation. It remains trapped in an existential crisis.
At first, it appeared to be another routine charade of a brooding prince threatening to abdicate the throne, only to be cajoled back by loyal courtiers. But, so far, Rahul Gandhi is not showing any signs of relenting and reportedly refusing to communicate even with close groupies.
Leaving a mammoth organisation leaderless for so long defies conventional wisdom — but these are not ordinary times for the Congress. There are no indications of a gameplan being in place. That has, in turn, left observers, analysts, palace insiders and second-rung party leadership baffled. They are hoping against hope that Rahul will change his mind. But precious time is ticking away. Soon, if not already started, the ground may begin to slip beneath the once rock-solid foundation of India’s 'GOP.'
Lonely prince? Rahul Gandhi isn't showing signs of relenting, but insiders hope to cajole him back onto the throne. (Photo: Reuters)
That there has not been a total meltdown yet may be attributed to a couple of factors. First, a majority of those holding important posts in the party hierarchy are there as nominees of the ruling family and have little power base of their own. Second, the keys to the 'tijori' are not with these office-bearers to pull off a coup.
In a similar situation earlier, there would have been an immediate clamour for bringing Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to the forefront — but, in hindsight, the Congress made a huge mistake by launching her before the elections. Many, like this author, had questioned the general belief of Priyanka being the secret 'Brahmastra' in the Congress’ arsenal.
Now, there is widespread speculation about the coterie setting up a 'regent' (some say even more than one) to clean up the mess and keep the seat warm for the return of a family member. Though this could be a short-term compromise solution, it will be no better than trying to close a gaping wound with a band-aid. If there are still any leaders of substance left in the Congress, such an interim construct is likely to face serious challenges from the regional satraps and ranks.
As this writer has been maintaining for a long time, many of the senior leaders within the party understand that their political shelf-life is limited. If they wait indefinitely for the phoenix to rise again, they may well go past the sell-by-date. It will not only put paid to their own political ambitions — but also of their sons and daughters, who may be interested in joining politics.
So, for them, the time to act is now.
The power behind the throne: It was always strong regional leaders who helped Rahul Gandhi's image improve. (Photo: PTI)
This Lok Sabha election has exposed some other popular assumptions.
If Rahul Gandhi’s political stock had gone up in the sensex of national politics, a chunk of the credit should go to the exceptional mobilisation of ground support and finance by regional leaders (except, perhaps, Gujarat, which was managed by Ashok Gehlot and Ahmed Patel) like Siddaramaiah, Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Ashok Gehlot, etc. Rahul Gandhi may have, at best, been the mascot in the campaign to milk anti-incumbency against the BJP governments in the states, and issues like GST or demonetisation at the centre.
As a corollary, in states where Congress did not have a strong local leadership — as in Uttar Pradesh — it failed miserably, despite a much-hyped alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
But, when in the Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Modi turned the tables by making it a 'Presidential' contest between him and 'Naamdars,' Rahul Gandhi came a cropper.
Misguided missile: Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra could have been the Congress' 'Brahmastra', but she failed. (Photo: Reuters)
Similarly, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra failed to reap any dynastic dividend in Uttar Pradesh. This would raise serious doubts about the legendary vote-catching powers of the 'Gandhi brand name'. The regional parties had probably realised this much earlier — and therefore kept the Congress at bay in forming alliances.
Now, this should provide some food for thought to the state-level leaders as well.
The other theory that will get challenged by these current developments is that of the 'Gandhi' name being the proverbial ‘glue’ that holds the Congress together.
It may be argued that the Gandhi adhesive worked with those who acquired powerful positions in the higher echelons of the party purely at the discretion of the dynasty. By definition, these people did not have a large following in their own right. Whereas the real mass leaders and experienced stalwarts were relegated as second-class citizens, shuffled about at the whims and fancies of the high command.
It is time the real leaders come forward to take on the kitchen cabinet of 24 Akbar Road. It is already apparent in the nonchalance with which some of the chief ministers are cocking a snook at Rahul Gandhi cold-shouldering them. These people understand that left to the power-brokers in Delhi, the real issues are going to be deflected with red-herrings like EVM and Project Shakti. In 2014, the advertising agency Dentsu was blamed for the Congress debacle.
This time, it's Praveen Chakravarty's turn to become the fall guy.
Goodbye? A Gandhi-Mukt Congress seems imperative to avert a Congress-Mukt Bharat. (Photo: PTI)
While the 'Baba-log brigade' may still hold to the coat-tails of Rahul Gandhi, there are second and third generation young leaders from the states, who are not as beholden to the dynasty. They have their own inherited constituencies that their family nurtured for years. Their fathers still have enough clout, both at the state and national levels, to strike deals for them in any emerging alignment. Many of this background stayed with the Congress till 2019 — but they will no longer keep their fortunes tied to a sinking ship. For keeping them on board, the Congress must itself stay afloat.
If Rahul Gandhi, his mother, sister and all those who matter are serious about letting go of their proprietary control over the Congress, then the only way forward can be to appoint an interim President and a core-committee by consensus with the explicit mandate to hold party elections within a finite time-frame. Any half-baked approach, designed for remote control by the Gandhis, will only prolong the present agony and eventually lead to regional factions breaking away and leaving the core to wither through attrition.
Thus, a 'Gandhi-Mukt Congress' has almost become a pre-condition to avert a 'Congress-Mukt Bharat!'