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Will Cong sink without ‘saviour’?

Will Cong sink without ‘saviour’?
Senior Congress leader Makhan Lal Fotedar’s forthcoming book “Chinar Leaves” has once again brought to the fore the discomfort between the old and the new guard in the 130-year-old Congress party. Fotedar is only voicing the desperation among sections of the Congress that Rahul Gandhi does not inspire confidence and lacks the requisite nous to be a natural politician.

The veteran Congress Working Committee member and a long time Gandhi family loyalist has told an interviewer recently that the Congress is again on the verge of collapse 16 years after Sonia Gandhi took over. “However, this time there is no saviour,” he said. There is no doubt Fotedar is feeling frustrated, sidelined and dumped. However, the Congress leadership has to sit up and notice why he has become emboldened to say such things. It should also see why the Congress is struggling to enforce a generational change while the BJP has successfully managed it with Prime Minister Modi in complete control of the party and government. While Modi reversed his political untouchability after the Godhra massacre with his well-crafted communication strategy, Rahul seems to have done just the opposite despite his lineage.

In the past year, Congress President Sonia Gandhi has virtually handed over the baton to her son. Since then there has been a tug of war between the Sonia coterie and Rahul Gandhi’s supporters who are working at cross-purposes. The status quo culture of the Gandhis has added to the chaos, as the Congress has not thrown out those responsible for the 2014 Lok Sabha poll debacle.

While the younger generation is hopeful of finding a place in Rahul’s new team, those in the old guard are busy protecting their individual interests. There is a perception that Rahul Gandhi is averse to leaders above 60 years of age in his team. The old guard is also unsure about the lack of direction in the party after the 2014 debacle, which has not yet been discussed in the All India Congress Committee (AICC).

However, this is not the first time that a generational shift is taking place. Indira Gandhi sidelined the Nehru generation of leaders like Sanjiva Reddy, Morarji Desai, and Nijalingappa and built her own coterie. Rajiv Gandhi replaced Indira Gandhi’s coterie by Arun Singh, Arun Nehru, Oscar Fernandes and Ahmed Patel.  Sonia Gandhi chose her own advisers. So such transitions occur on a regular basis. While there can be no quarrel about Rahul choosing his own team, the anxiety is that he should choose the right people. So far, most of those he had chosen have not proven to be up to the mark. The selection of State Congress unit leaders in Punjab, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh is a testament to this fact. The known faces of his team at the AICC include people like Madhusudan Mistry, Sanjay Nirupam, Mohan Prakash and other rootless wonders.

The old guard is aghast that their supporters are getting sidelined as it has happened in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Odisha, UP, and Bihar. This is not confined to one state. Many senior leaders like Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ajit Jogi and Captain Amarinder Singh feel that their supporters have been cut to size.  

Secondly, while they had access to Sonia Gandhi, the same cannot be said of Rahul. The Rahul coterie feels that the old guard had developed vested interests. Moreover, they have even accused the old guard of even stalling Rahul Gandhi ascension to the post of Congress President.

Fotedar is perhaps expressing his frustration when he told an interviewer recently, “History is threatening to repeat itself. It is a matter of time before Soniaji’s and Rahul’s leadership is challenged from within the party. I will be observing closely how they stand up to this looming challenge because Sonia is not Indira and Rahul is not Sanjay.” But he is only echoing the sentiment, expressed by many Congressmen in private. The effort is also to instill a fear in the Gandhi family. However, the time has not come for open revolt mainly because there is no one to lead the rebels. So they are just confined to talking in terms of ‘save the Congress. ’

In such a situation, the Congress leadership needs to revamp the party. The first thing is to arrest the unease and reassure the old guard. The second is to build up the party. The third is to strengthen the party in certain states, particularly those that are going to the polls next year like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Assam, besides building up its organisational base in the Hindi heartland, where it has no presence.

The fourth is to identify and build up a good state level leadership and get rid of the deadwood and have a mix of old and young leaders in Rahul Gandhi’s new team. The fifth is to prepare the party at the grassroots level and strengthen the booth-level activities. Above all, the Congress must bring back those who had left the party to build up their own outfits.

If the Grand alliance in which the Congress is a minor partner wins Bihar, then the morale of the party will be boosted. Then perhaps Fotedar’s statements may end up as a storm in the teacup. Until then, however, the Gandhis should take it as a wake-up call.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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