The Congress party at long last might be getting its act together. Gone is Rahul Gandhi’s swagger and insouciance. Instead, even he, the hitherto couldn’t-care-less dynast of the Congress’ controlling family, now realises that his game might be up unless something drastic is done to check the slide. Recent shocks in the Assembly elections, followed by rebellions and disarray in party units in several states, and the nearness of the big tests in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, seem to have helped Rahul Baba come of age.
There are enough indications to suggest that it has finally dawned on the mother-and-son duo that it cannot be business as usual, especially with the Modi-Shah duo working tirelessly to make it a Congress-Mukt Bharat. It is this fear of growing irrelevance that has made the Gandhis try and whittle down the power of the coterie around them. The two are now more easily available to a much larger pool of party men and well-wishers than was the case till before the Assembly poll. And in their current state of loss, they are open to fresh ideas.
Indeed, the Congress’ old guard, which was made to feel neglected and unwanted under the growing influence of Rahul Gandhi, seems to have regained some relevance in recent weeks. Not only the surprise decision to nominate P. Chidambaram, not anyone’s idea of a loyal Congressman, from Maharashtra for the Rajya Sabha, and to appoint Ghulam Nabi Azad as the in-charge of UP, clearly indicate that Rahul Gandhi and his team of apolitical advisers have ceded ground to the more conventional Congress leaders. A much chastened Sonia Gandhi again gives due weight to old Congressmen who were cast aside as she prepared to hand over the party to her son.
Given the existentialist crisis, there are now growing voices in the party against the formal anointment of Rahul Gandhi as the party chief. Barring the small group which owes its rise in the party to him, virtually everyone else is disappointed with Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning and his total lack of pulling power with the voters. If the Gandhis cannot help party candidates win elections, it is no surprise that Congressmen are ready to desert them for rival parties which enjoy popular support.
It is in the above context that a suggestion was made for Priyanka Vadra to lead the Congress campaign in UP. Even though she is untested and inexperienced, having only worked for her mother and brother thus far in Rae Bareli and Amethi, Congress leaders, desperate for a known “face”, want her to aggressively anchor the UP campaign next year. But in the absence of an effective grassroots organisation, it is feared that even this supposed Brahmastra might not be of much help.
But those who are canvassing for Priyanka as leader in UP also have caste in mind. They believe her induction would persuade Brahmins, who had deserted the party for the BJP, to return to the Congress. Brahmins constitute nearly a half of the 20% upper castes in UP. Even though the BJP leadership both in UP and at the Centre is in the hands of non-Brahmins, upper castes, including Brahmins, tend to prefer the BJP to other groups such as the SP and the BSP.
The “Priyanka Lao, Congress Bachao” school also reasons that in case she accepts the challenge, a sizable section of the Muslims too might vote for the party. Azad’s appointment as UP in-charge was also aimed at appealing to the Muslim vote-bank, which seems to swing between SP and BSP in UP, given its ingrained antipathy towards the BJP. Should Priyanka take the plunge and succeed in enthusing the dormant Congress base, a section of the Muslim vote is likely to swing back to the party.
Whether or not she will accept the challenge is for her to decide. But given the extreme distress the Family Firm finds itself in, given that her brother needs someone to boost his flagging claim on the family heirloom, given the key importance of UP for the party, especially if it is to retain some relevance ahead of the 2019 general elections, Priyanka might still gamble on leading the UP campaign.
If she is able to double the Congress tally from the present 28 seats, her foray would be considered a success. And Congressmen would insist on her, rather than on her brother, to lead the party at the national level as well. If she fails, anyway the Congress will recede into further irrelevance and along with it the Gandhis would forfeit their claim as the sole legatees of the once great party.
Meanwhile, her “delicate” state of health as also the unavoidable focus on her husband’s dirty linen being washed all over again in public will be countervailing factors against her joining active politics. As for her controversial husband, Robert Vadra, a little bird insists, is not only keen for her to take the plunge but is dying to take active part himself in the campaign in UP. He genuinely seems to believe that he can turn around the fortunes of the party of his in-laws. It is a gamble a desperate Congress might be ready to take in its current state of distress.
GRAVE PROVOCATIONS FOR MOB MAYHEM
Having lived in Bombay in the mid-80s, one is familiar with the mob behaviour. During the bandhs enforced by the Shiv Sena to protest the periodic killings of Hindus in Punjab, the occasional motorist on the road, unlucky to be caught by a rowdy group of Sainiks, was bound to come to grief in case he tried to speed away. However, the one who stopped when flagged down by the Sainiks had better chances of getting away unscathed, albeit after a rude tongue-lashing.
We recall the mob psychology experienced first-hand in Bombay after it emerged in the court order in the Gulberg Society case that the former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri, had opened fire at the post-Godhra mob, which was shouting slogans and damaging vehicles parked on the road. The special court, while sentencing the accused, reasoned that had Jafri refrained from “private firing”, which killed some of the protesters, and incensed it so much as for it to go on a killing spree of its own, he may still have been alive today.
The court judgement is a public document. But the reason why we mention it is that in the lop-sided 2002 Gujarat narrative orchestrated by a couple of foreign-funded NGOs, the point about Jafri, a notable among the residents of Gulberg Society who took it upon himself to assert his authority, opening fire at the mob was deliberately suppressed.
In any civilised society responding to a protesting mob with bullets is bound to be met with an uglier response. In countless trade union protests, murderous assaults by workers were invariably triggered by the use of muscle power by the hired hands of management.
Of course, it does not justify Jafri’s killing. No. But his opening fire at the mob is certainly a mitigating factor in favour of the accused.
JAIRAM RAMESH’S LATEST
Jairam Ramesh, an academic among conventional politicians, has made good use of his time, now that he has been out of power. Last week, he churned out what is his fourth book in the last two years. Old History, New Geography, Ramesh’s latest, offers what he calls “the context, text and subtext” to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. Ramesh, a member of the Rajya Sabha from the old Andhra till the other day, has wisely shifted to Karnataka for another six-year term as an Elder. Maybe the governments of the old and new state would do him a favour, buying his book in bulk since it concerns them. That, in turn, will bulk up further Ramesh’s own bank balance.