It was evident that Sonia Gandhi agreed to head the Parliamentary Party to stall any kind of unrest or uprising.
New Delhi: In what appeared to be a pre-scripted show, Sonia Gandhi was on Saturday unanimously elected as the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP), sending out a disturbing signal to the cadres that instead of looking towards the future, the party was refusing to come out of its recent disastrous past. The entire drama, enacted in the Central Hall of Parliament, was on expected lines, with Dr Manmohan Singh proposing her name in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, the newly elected MPs, select general secretaries and senior leaders such as A.K. Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni and Motilal Vora.
Her election was aimed at gaining time so as to persuade Rahul to change his mind, and continue as the president of the beleaguered Congress, still reeling under the shock of a second successive trouncing in the Lok Sabha elections. It was evident that Sonia Gandhi, who continued to wield the baton, even after she had handed over the reins to Rahul, agreed to head the Parliamentary Party to stall any kind of unrest or uprising. Her close aides ensured that she was given the authorisation to nominate the leaders of the party in the two Houses.
Within the Congress there is a sizeable section which wants Rahul to succeed Mallikarjun Kharge as the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha. On his part, the Congress chief has not shown any inclination to accept this position, after making it amply clear that he was taking full responsibility for the debacle, and a non-Gandhi should be designated as the president. This stand has apparently not gone down too well with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and his predecessor Sonia Gandhi, whose coterie continues to dominate the day-to-day affairs.
On Saturday, in what seemed to be a deliberate attempt to prevent Rahul from speaking, T. Subbarami Reddy, the CPP treasurer was given an indication to move the vote of thanks once the election of Sonia Gandhi was over. It was Rahul’s team man, K.C. Venugopal who intervened and demanded that he should be invited to speak. There was some confusion, following which the Congress president in his brief address urged the 52 MPs to fight the BJP unitedly so as to strengthen the forces which were opposed to hatred, violence and divisiveness, and instead act to uphold the Constitution.
There seemed to be a lack of clarity on who would lead the party in the two Houses. Speculation is rife after Rahul’s meeting with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar, on whether the Congress would cede the Opposition space to the veteran leader in the Rajya Sabha, while simultaneously making a strong case for procuring the position in the Lok Sabha. Legal experts maintain that since the Congress and the NCP had a pre-poll alliance ahead of the Parliamentary elections, their numbers should be tallied together to secure the post of the Leader of Opposition. However, the final decision would be taken later this month, depending on how the new Speaker interprets the matter.
The CPP deliberations, however, were not witness to the paroxysms that shook the Congress Working Committee at its meeting last week, where Rahul declared his decision not to continue as the party president. Priyanka, in aggressive interventions, lashed out at the senior leadership, fuming that they all had let the party down, and thus were equally culpable for the humiliating defeat. The admonishment took place in the presence of Sonia, who continually tried to convince Rahul to stay on as party president.
The Working Committee meeting ended on a silent note, with most of the members quietly edging away, contrary to observing the protocol of escorting Sonia Gandhi to the hall’s doorway. A senior leader, present at the meeting, stated that while many had wanted to ask Priyanka why she had not resigned to own up the responsibility for the Amethi fiasco, no one dared to do so; over the past two decades, the newly-appointed general secretary of Eastern Uttar Pradesh, has been looking after both Rae Bareli and Amethi.
On Saturday, the newly elected MPs and those in the Rajya Sabha, had a disquieted look when they emerged from the Central Hall since there were no clear answers to a number of questions regarding the party’s future. There was speculation as to what would happen if Rahul remained resolute on quitting. One conjecture was that A.K. Antony, who has always been a silent beneficiary, and is considered to be amongst the two persons closest to Sonia Gandhi, the other being Ahmed Patel, would possibly be made the interim president. He would be assisted by three or four vice presidents, or working presidents, who could include Ahmed Patel, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Ghulam Nabi Azad. It is a known fact that Azad is very well-versed with the organisational set up in various states.
The Congress is in the throes of a crisis with both Sonia and Priyanka unwilling to allow the leadership to slip out of the Gandhi hands. They appear disinclined to accept someone like Captain Amarinder Singh or Kamal Nath, two dynamic leaders who understand the nuts and bolts of politics, and go by their own judgement and instincts. Incidentally, Nakul Nath, son of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, who made his electoral debut with a win from his father’s constituency, Chhindwara, did not attend Saturday’s meeting, leading to undue speculation.
Surprisingly there has been no attempt to downsize the top heavy structure of the organisation, which has negligible infrastructure at the grassroots. The disconcertion within the party has already begun. There is dissatisfaction and discontentment over the way things have turned out to be. The senior leaders have virtually had their innings, but the threat, if it unfolds, would present itself from the younger lot, whose political future is at stake. In the past, the Congress has come out fortified after splits in the organisation, and it is only a matter of time when the party would be divided with the realisation dawning on the cadre that the Gandhis were no longer vote catchers. A challenge to the authority would be posed from within the ranks, and younger leadership in the course of time would surface as fresh faces in charge.