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Why Rahul can’t change Congress

There is a lot that Rahul Gandhi, a.k.a. The Prince, is doing right. Despite the cruel, crass hashtag world of social media, where he will continue to be referred to as #Pappu at least in near, foreseeable future, the Congress party vice-president is batting for quite a few things that are righteous, and democratic (read the latest issue of Governance Now for more on ‘Our insider in the system’, or subscribe to the online/print magazine here).

Democratisation of the party, which, shorn of all its highfalutin effect, means not grovelling before The Family in the Congress, is one of those aspects close to the heart of the Amethi MP. Not long after assuming charge as the Congress vice-president at the party’s ‘chintan shivir’ in Jaipur in January this year, Gandhi had put a curb on sycophancy by party leaders. As an article by this writer in June this year (Rahul Gandhi’s task is cut out: cut the fawning among leaders) had noted, Gandhi had, in fact, chided a leader as senior as Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, among several others, back in February for raising the demand.

‘Do your work (and) don’t give unsolicited advice,’ the Amethi MP is believed to have told Bahuguna when he raised the ‘Rahul for PM’ slogan at a meeting of Congress chief ministers and state party chiefs.

That, however, seems to have had little effect. So little impact, in fact, that the Amethi MP has ostensibly stopped losing his cool at such sycophancy, like he did with Bahuguna back in February. He does not mention the issue any more. It would be difficult, for everyone barring none seems to toe that line – even prime minister Manmohan Singh has gone on record to record his voice in the chorus, saying he has no problem working under Rahul Gandhi.

Or take the most recent instance involving Gandhi’s sister, Priyanka Vadra. On Monday, Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken stoutly refuted reports put out by ‘some TV channels’ that Priyanka would campaign nationally for the party. Stressing that all such reports are ‘completely wrong’, bringing to mind his press conference at the Delhi Press Club, which Priyanka’s brother Rahul hijacked to say the government and his party’s stand on the apex court’s order on convicted lawmakers was ‘complete nonsense’, Maken said, ‘Priyankaji only campaigns in Amethi and Rae Bareli.’

A day later, Allahabad unit of the party passed a resolution that went further than asking Priyanka to campaign in Allahabad – the sycophants there want her to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha election from Phulpur constituency, once represented by her great-grandfather: Jawaharlal Nehru.

That there could be other worthy candidates, or no worthy candidate from the party and that it could be given to a stronger candidate from an alliance partner (if it fructifies before 2014), for a seat that the Congress won only thrice since Nehru’s third and last victory in 1962 (Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit in 1962, VP Singh in ‘71 and Ram Pujan Patel in ‘84, with the latter two quitting the Congress to challenge Nehru’s grandson Rajiv Gandhi in 1989) did not even cross the party unit’s mind.

‘Priyanka Gandhi-ji is the only potential candidate left in Nehru family who will be suitable for this proposition,’ as UP Congress leader Abhay Avasthi said while justifying the ‘Priyanka for Phulpur’ demand.

If reports are to be believed, Rahul Gandhi’s much-touted reform programmes to get fresh, untainted faces in elections are also not cutting much ice as the election season heats up for the Delhi and Rajasthan assemblies. So rather than interviews of candidates to select the best ones, it’s all down to the chief ministers and state unit presidents, and the high command and 24-Akbar Road and 10-Janpath eventually.

So the BJP and Narendra Modi have got it all wrong, it would seem. Sycophancy, and not corruption or ignorance or apathy, is the pest that needs to be controlled in the Congress. And there’s little the young Gandhi can do in such an atmosphere to change internal democracy or dynamics in his own party, let alone the polity.

Unless, of course, he rules himself and his immediate family out of electoral politics for the next few elections.

On arrangement with GovernanceNow
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