A war of the generations is tearing apart the Congress, with party president Sonia Gandhi losing her hold over the youth leadership, who pledge allegiance to her son Rahul, the party vice president. Simultaneously, senior party functionaries are feeling sidelined by Rahul and his “young” brigade, and are complaining that a parallel organisation has emerged within the ranks comprising these “youth” leaders. In the states, this parallel organisation’s handling of the party units is being resented by a section of regional leaders to the extent of some thinking of leaving the Congress and forming their own outfits.
Expressing concern over the turmoil within the Congress, a senior party functionary, who is a former Union minister, told The Sunday Guardian, “There is a strong feeling that a parallel party is present within our ranks. The state units, the young leadership and youth workers are dissatisfied with the party’s organisational functioning and appointments in certain working bodies of the party at the state level as well as the national level. The overhauls have been worrying, to say the least.”
The resentment was fuelled by Rahul Gandhi’s decision to revamp various state units after returning from his sabbatical in April earlier this year. Dejected Congressmen, who had hoped that he would devote his new-found energy to strengthen the Pradesh Congress units, were disappointed with the exercise. “The restructuring of various state units showed that he sidelined the sympathisers of the established leadership (Sonia Gandhi). The appointments are a proof of that,” a senior Congress leader told this newspaper on the condition of anonymity.
Former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda found himself out of favour with Rahul Gandhi when the state Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) was reconstituted. Party veterans such as Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath, Ajit Jogi, Captain Amarinder Singh and former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot found them in similar space in the last one year.
The Gandhi scion witnessed factional resistance to his handpicked PCC chiefs in Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. Many of Rahul Gandhi’s “younger” leaders saw this as repeated attempts by the old guard to delay his elevation as party president.
Congress leader from Mumbai, Sanjay Nirupam told this newspaper, “The young leaders, particularly in the state units, have become disillusioned with the central leadership. Sonia Gandhi did a tremendous job in reviving the Congress’ fortunes in the 1990s; the need of the hour is to elevate Rahul Gandhi to the post of party president. The old guard has created an atmosphere where it is very difficult for new state party presidents to work with the leadership in Delhi.”
“There has been an atmosphere of non-cooperation and opposition within the party, which is not healthy,” Nirupam added.
However, the disenchanted stalwarts who comprise the “old guard” say that the Gandhi scion has no plans to accommodate them and that he is isolating them. Although Sonia Gandhi has not handed over the reins of the party officially to Rahul, Congress insiders reveal he wants to overhaul completely the Grand Old Party, which is a matter of worry for the senior leaders.
The transition from the old guard to the new generation was never going to be easy, but this is proving to be one with excessive friction.
“He (Rahul) feels that we have vested interests and that we should be done away with. When you consider the fact that there are leaders who have given their life to the party, having worked with the likes of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi until now, one would imagine that we would get a little regard for our contributions. But that seems unlikely in this new age,” said another senior Congress leader and a former Union minister. “We find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. There is no respect as such. The party is being run like a company. Without experienced senior leadership, the party is running off course. The worst is that we cannot take our concerns to anyone,” he added.