Rahul may have resigned as party chief but he did not exactly walk out of the door. He is still hanging around, figuring out his next course of action,
Last week saw a flurry of social media face-offs—all within the Congress. Sharmistha Mukherjee took on the veteran P. Chidambaram when he cheered the Aam Aadmi Party’s win with a rebuff for “gloating” over someone else’s win rather than “being concerned” over the Congress’ loss. Soon after we saw Ajay Maken take on Milind Deora for praising AAP and in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh Jitin Prasada rebuked BJP export Udit Raj for asking via Twitter why the Ram Mandir Trust comprised only Brahmins. To which, Prasada (a Brahmin himself) replied, that it was the Congress tradition not to single any one community for attack. Meanwhile, on another battlefield, Jyotiraditya Scindia launched a fresh attack on his state Chief Minister and rival Kamal Nath, while the Sachin Pilot vs Ashok Gehlot feud still simmers in the desert heat.
All very interesting indeed, for these are but murmurs within that camouflage a larger rumbling. This was flagged by none other than the Congress party’s own drummer boy, the perennial rebel Sandeep Dikshit, when he spoke of the leadership crisis within the party and asked, who will bell the cat? Who indeed? Dikshit has given us a list of senior Congress leaders (all from the Rajya Sabha) who, he rightly feels, have enjoyed the perks of office for long and now it’s time for them to give back to the party—by showing some spine and initiating the process of change. He says this knowing full well that nothing can happen within the party without the okay of the Family Troika. Despite this, Shashi Tharoor (a Lok Sabha MP) picked up the gauntlet and gave the bell a tinkle. He has asked for elections to the CWC.
This is a smart move. Tharoor is not disturbing the top leadership structure, but aiming for a change in the second tier of leadership. Constitutionally, the 24-member CWC (12 elected, 11 nominated and one Congress president) is the highest decision making body in the party (the unstated proviso being of course that all decisions will be subject to the approval of 10 Janpath). Moreover, when it comes to the crunch, it is the CWC that elects the new party chief. As is what happened with Narasimha Rao in 1991; the election of Sitram Kesri in 1996 and his replacement with Sonia Gandhi in 1998.
Therein lies the catch. An independent CWC not only has the power to appoint and remove party chiefs, though chances of them agreeing on any one name other than a Gandhi family member are next to none, but clearly no member of the Gandhi family wants to take this risk. Certainly not Sonia Gandhi, for the last time elections were held to the CWC was during Kesri’s time. And certainly not Rahul, who for all his talk of internal democracy, nominated 51 members to the CWC in July 2018 when he was party chief. To be fair to the Gandhis, they’re not the only ones who are wary of the CWC. Even Narasimha Rao first went in for elections but later when it threw up potential challengers such as Arjun Singh and Sharad Pawar, cancelled the election on the pretext that all sections, i.e. Dalits etc., were not adequately represented and then went on to nominate his own Working Committee. So this brings us to the second catch: elections to the CWC could throw up a second tier of leadership, who may in time emerge as potential challengers for the top job. And that’s a no-go. Yet, if you do not identify potential leaders and a second tier, how will you pull the party out of the rut that it is in?
Which brings us to the crisis at the top: we are told that Sonia Gandhi is there as a temporary measure. Interestingly, apart from being the Congress president, she is also the party’s Parliamentary Party chief and the UPA chairperson. In other words, all the three key posts are in the hands of one person, albeit some of these temporarily.
Those who are in the know say that Sonia has made it clear that she wants to pass the ball back to Rahul Gandhi. On Rahul’s name there seems to be a consensus within the family, for Priyanka too has let it be known that she is content to work under her brother’s leadership, and for now her focus seems to be Uttar Pradesh. One reason why there is no overt Rahul vs Priyanka talk within the Congress is that she herself is the first to frown down such chatter.
Which brings us back to Rahul once again. But is Barkis willing? If he is not then why is he standing in the doorway, blocking any other aspirant? Note, Rahul may have resigned as party chief but he did not exactly walk out of the door. He is still hanging around, figuring out his next course of action, okaying some appointments and frowning at others such as the elevation of Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana. And while he goes through this “to be or not to be” debate, no one else can make a move. Hence the Congress is doing what it does best—shuffling at status quo. We saw this during the recent Delhi elections where the Congress did not even put up a fight. In contrast look at what the BJP did. Like the Congress, it also knew at the outset that it had a slim chance of wresting Delhi back from the AAP. But instead of slinking away, it fought a good (or nasty) fight where Amit Shah, who was by then an ex party president, led from the front. That’s the difference between commitment and dalliance. Politics is not an opportunist’s sport where you wait when the opponent is down and then come in rolling your sleeves muttering about GST and demonetisation. You need staying power, through the good, the bad, and the nasty. What Sandeep has said on record, others are saying off record. If your own party is losing faith in you, how will you convince the public at large? Rahul has lowered the bar so much that in his case the first rule of politics is simply to show up. The second would be to get on with the show, find your script and step up.
I will end with a throwback from the Delhi polls, “Jo yaha padhai hanumãna chãlĩsãa hoya siddha sãkhĩ gaurĩs aa (whoever reads the Hanuman Chalisa obtains accomplishment)”.