The writing is on the wall and the manner in which developments have taken place so rapidly within the past one week in the Congress, it is evident that the Gandhis wish to control the grand old party through a remote.
The manner in which Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has been treated indicates that there was a deep-rooted conspiracy to unseat him and the objective behind his being named the official candidate for presidentship, was to install his béte noire, Sachin Pilot as his successor.
Gehlot fell out of favour of the high command since he resisted the move and the general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan, Ajay Maken gave a report to the interim chief, Sonia Gandhi, which virtually indicted him. It is another matter that Maken too seemed to have his own vested interest in getting Gehlot sidelined.
According to party insiders, Maken was feeling insecure after Gehlot’s name had cropped up for the president’s position, for he felt that his clout in the AICC would diminish. Similarly, if the Chief Minister was appointed as per Gehlot’s choice, Maken would also become weak in the state.
Therefore, it does not require much guess work that Pilot’s name was floated in the media by journalists who were fed the source-based information. When the news was not well received by Rajasthan MLAs, the impression was created on TV channels that even before assuming office, Gehlot had challenged the supremacy of Sonia Gandhi, which was not the case at all.
Gehlot had earlier committed to Sonia Gandhi that he would step down as the Chief Minister before filing his nomination since it had been communicated to him that the principle of one man-one post (flouted multiple times in the past) was going to be applied. The curious aspect is that this would have applied to Gehlot only after his election as the party chief and not before that.
The fundamental mistake made by the veteran leader was that he did not allow the central team to meet MLAs individually. Had the MLAs met Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge, they could not have spoken against Gehlot since he was expected to be the party president. Even Sachin’s supporters would have backed him. However, the one-line resolution which in the past has been used to dislodge many seniors, whereby the MLAs authorize the Congress president to name the CM, could not be passed. Gehlot during his meeting with Sonia Gandhi, expressed his regret over this but by that time, it was too late.
The search had commenced for his replacement. Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Kamal Nath, who was summoned to New Delhi, is understood to have advised the interim president to defuse the crisis before making it clear that he was not in the race. Similar views were expressed by Ambika Soni, who other than A.K. Antony, is considered to be the closest to the Gandhis.
Multiple names cropped up and though Shashi Tharoor had unilaterally declared his candidacy, Digvijaya Singh and Mukul Wasnik were amongst those who were considered. Finally, Sonia Gandhi, gave her nod for Kharge, the 80-year-old veteran leader since she was convinced that his elevation would help in the Karnataka elections.
Kharge is a battle-scarred politician and has during most part of his illustrious career been a state politician. His understanding of national politics is limited and the main reason for his selection is that the Gandhis trust him immensely. He is from a region where the Congress is already strong and could win the Assembly polls next year.
However, Congress watchers believe that in the present circumstances, it would have been better if a leader from the North would have been made the Congress president, because it is in the Indo-Gangetic belt that the party needs to strengthen itself. In this context, with both Gehlot bowing out and Kamal Nath declining to enter the race, the best possible choice could have been former Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who has a mass appeal and long standing in the party.
Nevertheless, the significant aspect of Kharge’s nomination is that virtually all known leaders of the party have appended their signatures on his nomination form. This includes members of the now defunct G-23, who, it is clear, shall back the official line. It is a foregone conclusion that after filing his nomination, Kharge is the president-elect of the Congress and it would only be of academic interest on how many votes Shashi Tharoor polls in the performa contest.
It is true that the Congress organisational elections would, over the next 19 days, overshadow most political events including the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which has been received well in Kerala and same would be the case in Karnataka as well. The Congress should devise a plan to consolidate the gains made by the Yatra. Otherwise, things would fizzle out in the end.
The spotlight would also be on the high command’s decision regarding Rajasthan. The final ruling on whether Gehlot stays as the CM or goes would be taken shortly and would certainly have a bearing on the Assembly elections in the state next year. While Gehlot has been a Congress loyalist for over 50 years, it is not known how he may react if he is ousted.
A party veteran said that the Congress president’s election shenanigans have exposed the Gandhis and their desperate manipulations to remotely hang on to levers of power in the dying grand old party. Between us