Within the family there is absolute discord so far as succession is concerned. Sonia Gandhi wants Rahul to lead, yet does not give him a free hand. Rahul believes that he is rather knowledgeable and continues to be guided by inexperienced aides. Priyanka’s politics is focused on what Robert Vadra wants her to do.
New Delhi: The dismal show of the Congress in the Delhi Assembly elections has triggered a silent demand amongst party workers to have a non-Nehru-Gandhi as party president. Key functionaries have been speculating in hushed tones whether the message that they are not needed for the time being has as yet reached the Gandhis even as Sonia Gandhi is, once again, all set to hand over the reins of the Congress presidentship to Rahul Gandhi. Important leaders have already been alerted on Rahul’s reinstatement in March.
However, the general view of the shrinking cadre base is that political necessity would dictate that the top party job should be given to a non-Gandhi, as was advocated in the aftermath of the 2019 Parliamentary elections by Rahul himself that the only way forward was to have a non-Gandhi at the helm of affairs. This would ensure that Sonia Gandhi’s coterie that has developed a vested interest does not harm the party anymore. The apprehension is that if status quo is maintained, the result for the party in Bihar later this year would not be any different from that of Delhi. Therefore, the need of the hour was to resuscitate the organisation for the future.
In the wake of the party’s decimation in the capital, several leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jairam Ramesh and Milind Deora are asking for the party to reinvent its ideology. However, the Congress has suffered humiliation in successive Lok Sabha elections, and many other elections, primarily because it has deviated from its original doctrine. The Congress was always considered to be a secular outfit, and this apparently perceived tilt towards the minorities has resulted in the BJP—its main adversary—gaining an upper hand.
The decline of the party commenced during the tenure of Sonia Gandhi as the party chief, when she virtually outsourced the Congress to a handful of her advisers, who took arbitrary decisions that proved detrimental to the overall interests of the organisation. The general belief even currently is that Sonia Gandhi was the major hurdle in Rahul’s political journey, as it were her advisers, who always had their way at his expense.
So far as Rahul is concerned, there is no doubt that in the past few years he has worked extremely hard, but some gaffe or the other has prevented him from being taken as a serious political player. During the Delhi polls, he spoke about how the youth would hit the Prime Minister with a “danda”, since he had been unable to fulfil the promises made on the employment front. This kind of political idiom and language is least expected from the Nehru-Gandhis, who are viewed as leaders with political pedigree, given their illustrious background.
Rahul and Priyanka, both campaigned in the Delhi polls and it is stupefying that while speaking in the walled city and in order to make a connect, they did not highlight the fact that Indira Gandhi’s mother, Kamala Nehru hailed from Bazaar Sita Ram. Instead the brother and sister focused on issues that did not have any resonance with the masses, who had already made up their mind to vote for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) based on the performance of its government.
It was evident that in the elections the party workers did not fully support them and when a BJP leader referred uncharitably to their father as Rajiv Feroze Khan, nobody in the Congress came forward to either defend the former Prime Minister and put the record straight or condemn the deplorable remark. The general feeling was that their shielding Rajiv would not have mattered so far as its current leadership goes, but they would have been targeted by the BJP for doing so.
The Congress has not learnt any lessons from the 2014 and 2019 outcome, and as Sharmistha Mukherjee, daughter of former President Pranab Mukherjee, put it, that time was long over for further introspection as it was “the time to act”. She also admonished former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, for hailing the AAP victory since the BJP had been humbled. The underlying question of the workers is: when would the day come when the Congress would celebrate its own successes?
Knowing that Sonia Gandhi was reluctant to hand over the party to a non-Gandhi, top party leaders have been wanting her to understand that more than Rahul, Priyanka would have enhanced acceptability. However, what has made matters complex is that within the family there is absolute discord so far as succession is concerned. Sonia wants Rahul to lead, yet does not give him a free hand. At the same time, Rahul believes that he is rather knowledgeable and continues to be guided by inexperienced aides. Priyanka’s politics is focused on what her husband, Robert Vadra, wants her to do. This scenario has contributed to the disillusionment of the workers.
The present Congress has no resemblance with the Congress headed by Indira Gandhi and subsequently by Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao. Senior party leader, and Indira and Rajiv’s political adviser, Makhan Lal Fotedar had predicted in his 2016 book, that the party had reached a cul-de-sac. In other words, under the Gandhis, it holds no future. This sentiment perhaps was also felt by Rahul in 2019 though he could now be having second thoughts.
Senior party leaders are reluctant to openly come out against the Gandhis, but the best recourse for reviving the Congress would be to take certain harsh yet practical political measures. At one level, the Congress should consider appointing NCP chief, Sharad Pawar as the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and with the support of his MPs, have a designated Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha as well. The present leadership has to realise that even in its current state the Congress is the only national outfit that can pose a challenge to the BJP.
To strengthen the organisation, the Congress requires as its head a mass leader with a strong base in his state. Captain Amarinder Singh, Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot are all seasoned players, and can readily assist in re-energising the party. If any of them wishes to step down from their present positions and devote time to the party, it could possibly be a step in the right direction.
However, at this crucial juncture, former Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda could emerge as the most suitable politician to guide the party. He is a mass leader, and his community, the Jats, hold him in high esteem. He comes from a family of freedom fighters; his grandfather, Chaudhury Mattu Ram was both a close associate of Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh, who also happened to be Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s uncle. Every Congress rally held in Delhi is a success story solely because Hooda manages to lorry in thousands, his people, from neighbouring Haryana.
Hooda has wide organisational experience and could judiciously be assisted by Sachin Pilot, who has a large following amongst Gurjars. If Hooda is elected Congress president, Sachin could be the working president in the new look, Gandhi-free party. The Congress Chief Ministers could augment their efforts and infuse fresh ideas in the 134-year-old party directly facing political extinction.
There could be a fair chance that Hooda’s elevation could perhaps also halt the march of Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP into Haryana, where the possibility of its expansion is very much on the cards. The AAP is also on the verge of revival in Punjab, where on the day of the Delhi results, there were, in several places, including Amritsar, celebrations amongst some Congress workers, a matter for both the Punjab and Central leadership to lose sleep over. These workers could switch over to the AAP prior to the 2022 state polls, if the Congress leadership does not take into account and consideration their aspirations and expectations.
Whatever shape the Congress takes in the future, the general consensus amongst workers is, that the Nehru-Gandhis should take a political sabbatical. At this stage, they can no longer reap dividends for the party and, thus, at least for some time they should take a back seat.