Sonia Gandhi has finally called a meeting of nine Chief Ministers and some senior leaders on Tuesday. The stated objective is that the party is keen to devise a strategy to meet the challenge from the NDA government in general and the BJP in particular. However, the real objective is obvious that a shrewd Sonia Gandhi will use the occasion to get the Chief Ministers to endorse Rahul’s programmes. In other words, it is the first step to get support from the states in order to pave way for Rahul to take over from his mother later this year. It is a typical Congress way of pushing forward an unlisted agenda to test the waters before the vice president is elevated. The exercise will also counter views expressed by some former Chief Ministers such as Sheila Dikshit that Sonia Gandhi should continue for the time being, thereby implying that the time was not right for Rahul to assume greater responsibility.
Chief Ministers’ meetings of Congress ruled states were held several times in the past. For instance, the one held in Nainital in 2006 focused on agriculture problems. Such a conclave would be taking place after a huge gap as the party continued to be run by the coterie around Sonia Gandhi. These leaders did not feel the need to take feedback from others, as that could have exposed some of them for pursing an erroneous line of thinking.
Tuesday’s meeting is being convened at the insistence of the Congress president, who feels that the time has arrived for a change of baton and she should ensure Rahul’s anointment as the party chief, while she is still around and in control of things, even if it is not the same kind of grip that was in evidence in the past. Many Chief Ministers are in a defiant mood and have occasionally declined to toe the high command’s line. This meeting would try to rein them in, so that they are together on the elevation of Rahul, even if the matter is not a part of the stated agenda.
What has baffled many of the seniors, who are watching the developments from the sidelines is that why the party is not doing anything substantial to prepare itself for the electoral battle of Bihar, likely to take place in September-October, and is instead concerned more about the succession issue. Bihar is very crucial for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, and a loss there could determine the future politics of the country. But the grand old party is without a plan and is leaving too much on the state president, who is unacceptable in many quarters, and C.P. Joshi, the general secretary who has limited attention span and is unwilling to learn anything from grass roots workers. Joshi will be among the five or six general secretaries attending the CM conclave in his capacity as a general secretary who is a state in-charge.
Other general secretaries who are likely to be there include Ahmed Patel (political secretary to Congress president), Digvijaya Singh, Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik and Narayanswamy. In addition, some other senior leaders could also be present.
A large number of Congress activists feel that Rahul’s proactive actions were enthusing the workers in many parts of the country, but the evidence of his success as a leader can only be determined when the party performs well in an Assembly election under his overall leadership and inspiration. Bihar is a lost chance and the next test would be when the polls take place in Assam and Kerala next year and in some other states in 2017. Till then he has to be consistent and on the road meeting grassroots activists and general people, something he should have done in his two earlier stints as an MP and as a party office bearer.
The problem with the Congress at present is that people in many states are already missing it, but have been unable to overcome their aversion for those who are leading it at present. The Congress is facing a situation similar to the one faced by Maggi noodles in the latest instance. Like Congress, Maggi was the favourite and suddenly its popularity seems to have taken a dip following disclosures about the ingredients. Similarly, Congress rode on a high horse for all these years but scams and allegations of corruption stuck on the party despite its best efforts to present a clean image of itself.
Rahul is the best bet to ensure that members of the Sonia coterie, who have brought the party to this stage, must be recalled and the party must reinvent itself. But question marks over his ability continue to also haunt the cadres, who firmly believe that before attacking its opponents, the high command should realise that people living in glasshouses should not throw stones at others. Leaders at the conclave may back Rahul’s policies, but that would be of no avail unless the common people also endorse him. Between us.