In today’s politics, is coterie such a bad word?


New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi finishes one year as the interim president of the Congress party on 10 August. However, as of now there is no indication that the status quo will not continue. However, there is definitely a churn within the party to indicate that Rahul Gandhi is “kind of” interested in making a comeback. Otherwise how would you explain his constant attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Covid to China, his reinvention of himself as he plays anchor at some thoughtful conversations? The problem is that he is still to say yes. And this vacuum is telling on both the Congress as a party and the opposition as a whole.

Speaking to NewsX, Congress MP and national spokesperson, Manish Tewari pointed out, “After Rahul Gandhi’s resignation in 2019 the Congress has three options. It can either confirm Sonia Gandhi as the full time president; or Rahul Gandhi withdraws his resignation and returns as president for he was elected for a period of five years in December 2017. If both these are non sequiturs then according to Article 18 (h) of the Congress Constitution the Congress must hold an election to the post of president.” However he added that “the ideal solution would be a Nehru-Gandhi presidency and elections to the CWC”. This is a sentiment that has been voiced by some others as well.

Interestingly, Tewari also spoke of another reform that needs to be implemented within the party and that is to stop promoting those who have not worked their way up in the organisation to organisational posts. As he says “the organisational purity” must be maintained. By this he means, give preference to those who come from the youth wings as opposed to those who have posts handed to them on a platter. After Jyotiraditya Scindia’s and Sachin Pilot’s revolt, this is a suggestion that may find merit amongst the party.

Moreover, in recent times, we have seen a host of leaders who are part of “Team Rahul” become more vocal at party fora. Such as K.C. Venugopal, Rajeev Satav, Sushmita Dev and Randeep Surjewala. This is being seen as an indication that Rahul himself is getting ready to play a larger role within the party. Whether it is the view that the Congress needs to be more aggressive in attacking the Narendra Modi government or that the UPA government’s track record needs introspection—both these suggestions can be seen as markers of a Rahul Congress. Don’t forget how Rahul reacted to Manmohan Singh government’s ordinance against the tainted on the eve of the 2014 polls. At that time too it was seen as a move to distance Rahul from the sins of the UPA. Now again that debate has come to the fore, brought up by Satav at an inner party meet. The timing is interesting. Why now and why not after the 2014 and 2019 defeats?

However, Sushmita Dev denies that there is any “coterie” at play for as she says, “There is no Sonia or Rahul Team. Everyone is given space to speak.” She also points out that she has never been told what to say or prompted at any party meet. “The media recently reported that Sonia prompted me to speak at a CWC meet, but it was only because I had raised my hand and she saw it that she asked me to speak,” clarifies Sushmita. According to her, “Rahul is equidistant with everyone” but that is a subjective statement at best. Ask Ahmed Patel, Captain Amarinder Singh and Bhupinder Hooda. But yes these camps are not in black and white, just as there is no clear divide between Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, the lines between the camp followers too are blurred. Apart from Sushmita herself, there are others like Ashok Gehlot, Manish Tewari, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Bhupesh Baghel who straddle both camps, while one is not quite sure where Shashi Tharoor, Milind Deora, Jitin Prasada, R.P.N. Singh and Deepender Hooda stand, though these are leaders with access and are articulate voices within the organisational set up. As for Jairam Ramesh, he is a category by himself.  Another question comes to mind: in today’s politics, is coterie such a bad word? Loosely translated it means a core team of a trusted few that the leader puts together to help him/her in organisational affairs. If this coterie is from within the organisation then it can be an asset. However, if the coterie contains outsiders, or to use Manish Tewari’s words, consists of those who lack “organisational purity” then be prepared for individual agendas overshadowing party work. But the most important point to be noted is that even coteries need a leader. Is Rahul ready to lead, both his coterie and the party? He should note that more and more Congressmen are now coming on record and stating, the country needs a viable opposition. And the opposition needs a leader.