Hallelujah for Gandhis sans organisational base cannot pitch GOP as serious challenger in 2024.
Ostrich is a species of bird which cannot fly. A remnant of the fossil age, the large bird, now found only in the Horn of Africa, has the propensity to bury its head in sand when faced with a storm so that it may remain oblivious of its perilous state. The outcome of the “extended” meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on weekend last somewhat seems to have been inspired by the behavioural pattern of an ostrich. The meeting began with members hailing the interim president of the party, Sonia Gandhi, as the “hands-on” chief (while it is common knowledge that former chief and reluctant future captain Rahul Gandhi calls the shots, which Sonia has no choice but to endorse). It then went on to set a schedule for party elections, setting 21 August 2022, a day after Rajiv Gandhi’s 78th birth anniversary, as the date for the filing of nomination for Congress President. In the same breath, majority of the members also joined a cacophony for urging Rahul Gandhi to don the mantle right away. Thus it was not clear if the endorsement of Sonia as “hands-on” incumbent was overshadowed by the demand for Rahul stepping in without waiting for the poll process to be through.
Sonia took on her critics by asking why they go to the media and not talk to her directly. Efficacy of her chiding was apparent the next day when the nascent Punjab PCC president, Navjot Sidhu, used Twitter to raise 13 questions on the party. Sidhu has been scouted as points man by Rahul and Priyanka and is in no way associated with the “dreaded G23”.
The so-called G23, which had raised a flag last year has seen attrition in its ranks. Jitin Prasada has moved out to become a minister in Uttar Pradesh’s BJP team. Veerappa Moily has mellowed. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik, each of them with a glorious organisational background, each a former Indian Youth Congress president, have in recent times sought space within the established order, shrugging off suggestions that they are rebels. Manish Tewari, a Lok Sabha member from Punjab (also a former youth leader, he headed NSUI) has meanwhile used his writing skills to underscore issues in the media as also sided with former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. The Maharaja of Patiala has openly declared his intention to part company with the Grand Old Party and seek space in Punjab politics with some breakaway Akali factions and play ball with BJP in the 2022 state polls. Amarinder may soon be in the ranks of Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, Chandrashekhar Rao, Chandrababu Naidu—all erstwhile Congresspersons who now are regional satraps with a propensity to poaching on Congress cadres.
The meeting of the CWC did not have the participation of party’s known faces: Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot (nor his bête noire Sachin Pilot), Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel (nor his rival T.S. Singh Deo), Punjab’s Charanjit Channi. Kamal Nath and Shashi Tharoor were not included in the list which had worthies whose names perhaps may not be worth mentioning in a serious political discourse. Twenty CWC nominated members (elections last held in 1996), 23 permanent invitees and nine special invitees formed the quorum sans the heavyweights mentioned above. No doubt Hallelujah for the Gandhi parivar was the anthem. The party did not come out with a prescription for cure.
Had it chosen allopathy, some drastic action (even if it meant formal takeover by the Rahul team which presently rules by proxy) would have followed. After all, in BJP, both in the organisation and in the council of ministers, sweeping changes have been implemented; Chief Ministers changed without rancour and a new edifice is in place.
The homeopathic cure could have been Sonia replicating what she skilfully did in 1998 when she took over. She used the good offices of her advisors like Vincent George, Oscar Fernandes and Ahmed Patel to provide space to those who had been estranged. Madhavrao Scindia’s Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress was merged back. Congress (Tiwari) faction reunited. S. Bangarappa was weaned back in Karnataka. At the same time, Congress (T) honchos Arjun Singh, Natwar Singh, Sheila Dikshit, Mohsina Kidwai etcetera, who had been the face of the Sonia loyalists’ standoff with P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesari, were not given overdue importance. Pranab Mukherejee, Jitendra Prasada and other prominent faces of the Narasimha Rao team were given recognition as per their talent—so much so that Pranab Mukherjee, who had been dropped by Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 became perhaps the last-ever Rashtrapati in 2012. Instead she chose to snub the G23 by innuendo and in turn was snubbed by Navjot Sidhu.
For emerging as an alternative to BJP in 2024, Congress has the intent, but does it have the matching resolve and more importantly, the capability? When Priyanka Gandhi Vadra announced in Lucknow 40% seats for women, a cartoonist portrayed two Congressmen in a conversation: fortunately, we have enough unwinnable seats to satisfy all sections of society, said the neta. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s histrionics in Uttar Pradesh make good media copy but sans an organisational base can it upset the BJP applecart?
Congress, the Grand Old Party, is undoubtedly the only force which can be face to face with BJP in 250 seats spread across Himachal, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Puducherry, Assam, Uttarakhand, Arunachal, Manipur and in large parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Unfortunately, Indian National Congress is no longer in a position to be the nationwide alternative: it has yielded space to regional parties, most born out of its womb.
P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesari as Congress presidents led the party to 140 and 141 Lok Sabha seats in 1996 and 1998, respectively. The Gandhi parivar has improved its score of 44 in 2014 to 52 in 2019. The axiom of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s “ladki hoon ladti hoon” jab is that Congress will fight solo if necessary. Regional parties with their respective fiefdoms scoff at Congress ability to lead the charge against Narendra Modi. Minus a clear prescription for cure, apathy stares at the face of the GOP.