New Delhi: “Jisko jaana hai voh jaaye (whoever wants to leave can leave),” seems to be the unofficial reaction of Team Rahul Gandhi to JEXIT, as Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit has been dubbed on social media. “It’s as if Rahul is waiting for a purge, before getting down to business,” commented a Congress Lok Sabha MP.
What is interesting however is that there seems to be an unstated envy for Scindia, that he has got away while others are stuck in the swamp of status-quo. When it was pointed out that Scindia would enjoy less clout in Modi’s BJP than he did with the Gandhis, an ex-Congress MP commented that “it’s better to be ignored in a party that’s got its ear to the ground than ignored in a party that’s going nowhere”.
Turning this mood around is going to be Rahul Gandhi’s toughest challenge in the aftermath of JEXIT for he is the unquestioned President-in-Waiting. There are some who see this as an excuse to push for Rahul’s re-nomination as party chief making this an Old Guard vs Gen-Next fight.
But is it as simple as this? The appointments of Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath as Chief Ministers instead of Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia happened when Rahul was the party chief. We have since been told that actually he wanted to nominate the GenNext leaders, but he was over-ruled by his mother, who, in turn, was advised by her coterie. “If a President is going to be led by someone else’s opinion then he is not much of a leader,” says a Congress Rajya Sabha MP, adding that there is something systemically wrong in the party.
While Nath’s and Gehlot’s appointments can be defended in terms of experience, the appointment of Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as the Lok Sabha leader defies explanation. Especially when there is talent like Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor languishing on the benches. And why not Rahul Gandhi himself, as former Congress leader Natwar Singh pointed out in an interview to NewsX? Similarly, the rise and rise of K.C. Venugopal has not gone down well with most of his colleagues, who see Venugopal as an extension of A.K. Antony’s inexplicable hold over the party. In fact the 3-As known as the Amar, Akbar, Antony (read Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and A.K. Antony) retain their clout as long as Sonia Gandhi is president. However, it can be argued that at least these are old Congress leaders (with their pluses and liabilities) as opposed to Team Rahul. One way to boost morale would be an inclusive use of the current talent, instead of waiting for a purge—or relying on a team of outsiders, however fancy their laptops and foreign degrees may be. The best way to identify talent would be to hold the Congress Working Committee elections that some leaders such as Sandeep Dikshit, Shashi Tharoor and Abhishek Singhvi are asking for.
To be fair, it’s not as if Rahul is making all the wrong moves. In a free-wheeling conversation recently, Congress leader Madhu Goud Yaskhi recalled the last Punjab polls campaign where it was Rahul who was the first to pinpoint the rampant drug abuse amongst the youth as a major poll issue. According to Yaskhi, Rahul did most of the spadework much before the polls, though it was Captain Amarinder Singh who stole the thunder during the election. The one reason why Rahul got none of the credit for the Punjab win is very simple. Rahul lacks credibility. One way to ensure this would be to show some staying power. A sometime-politician fails to reassure even when he is making a valid point.
Recently, in an interview to a website, Manish Tewari spoke of the need for the Congress to figure out its philosophical and ideological position on a range of issues before going in for a change of leader (in Congress-speak this means change from Sonia to Rahul). But in today’s personality driven politics, positions need a face as well. Let’s begin with the ideological. Rahul tried to push the Congress away from its overtly pro-minority tag that it had acquired under Sonia. Just as Arvind Kejriwal flirted with soft Hindutva, so did Rahul Gandhi during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But why did the public find it easier to buy Kejriwal’s trips to Hanuman Mandir but didn’t quite fall for Rahul displaying his Janeu (sacred thread worn by Brahmins) and his trips to various temples? That is something Team Rahul needs to figure out.
Interestingly, it is not sundry Congressmen alone but also other Opposition leaders who are equally worried about the decline of the oldest national party. “While we can fight Modi in our regional fiefdoms, it is only the Congress that can take on BJP at a national level,” pointed out one such leader. He added, “Since it’s clear Rahul doesn’t have it in him to revive the Congress, why doesn’t the party outsource this task to Sharad Pawar?” There is little denying that Pawar would be able to bring back all those who had left the Congress such as Mamata Bannerjee, Jagan Reddy and others. While Sonia Gandhi has her well-founded reservations about Pawar’s ambitions, how much of a threat can he be, when you stack his 79 years to Rahul’s 49? At the very least, Pawar will stem the exodus and ensure that there’s a Congress left to fight over.
When Scindia left for the BJP, Rahul commented “perhaps he didn’t see a future for himself in the Congress”. Those are perceptive words. Unfortunately, there is an entire generation of Congress leaders who joined the party along with Scindia and Rahul (and after them) who share this feeling. The Old Guard has had their tryst with power, and can now write their memoirs. What about the second and third rungs? They need a reason to stay back, other than “time and patience”.