Journey to blankness
With Rahul out of the fray, who will retrieve Congress from its internal ruins?
The countdown has begun for choosing a consensual face in place of Rahul Gandhi as the 88th president of the 134-year old Indian National Congress after persistent efforts of one entire month to make Rahul agree for withdrawal of his resignation fizzled out. Congress will get its new chief anytime now. With this, Congress enters in an era filled with ambiguity, disorientation, and blankness.
Those who want to see a replacement for Rahul argue that if PV Narasimha Rao could run Congress from 1991 to '96 and Sitaram Kesari from 1996 to '98, why anyone should doubt the capabilities of any other non-Nehru-Gandhi in heading the party now? In my opinion, they obliterate a few facts. Rao became the Congress president after the tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi when Sonia Gandhi was not at all willing and even accomplished enough to take over the reins of the party and Rahul and Priyanka were only 21 and 19 years old. Congress leaders of the time had no other option than to accept a transitory arrangement.
It is another story that how temporal Rao-era proved? He could run the presidency for five years because he became the prime minister also. The day he was no prime minister, it became clear that his days as president are numbered and Kesari threw him out one fine morning. Kesari also had to face a similar fate after some time as foot-soldiers of the Congress party never accepted his election as a logical outcome. After a careful study of party affairs for seven long years ultimately Sonia had to take over and the Congress party flourished and moved with a fast pace.
Rao did not replace any existing Nehru-Gandhi, he initially came as their choice. Kesari also did not replace Nehru-Gandhi or a person of their choice. Rao had become persona non grata long before Kesari occupied party president's chair. Kesari, like Rao, also became party president as a choice of Congress' first family initially. But the old man was in a big hurry to take up the prime ministerial assignment and his indulging in crude manoeuvres to achieve this goal cost him his party's captainship.
Today's situation is different. Rahul Gandhi is in no mood to depart from his stand that he will not hold the presidency anymore; the fact remains that he is leaving with a bruise on his soul, with anguish in his heart, and distress in his mind. He is being hard on himself because he does not want others to pretend as nothing has happened and make them accountable too. But he underestimated the expertise of a set of Congress leaders in rubbing salt on his wounds. It was a well-calibrated result that there were no rallies in support of Rahul across the country, no resignations of any major leaders followed for full one month and there were no sincere efforts to resolve the logjam. Do you need a signal to respond at the time of an emergency? What could have been a bigger urgency to attend to than Rahul's quitting so abruptly?
Congress workers have witnessed all this sitting helplessly at every nook and corner across the country. Do you think, any new president will get a whole-hearted welcome by the grassroots workers? Party workers will always have a feeling that the person riding on their back is there because Rahul was practically made to give up in spite of his astounding job during the 2019 election campaign. Accountability, after all, has to be collective. If Rahul is accountable, around 5000 other small and big leaders are equally responsible for the current debacle. The bigger question than the election outcome is the organisational strength Congress has on the ground. Who are to blame for that? What were the assignees for this responsibility doing all these years? Why are they still there if Rahul has gone?
It is no use hiding the fact that Congress is in limbo for more than a month and its workers are deeply disappointed with the organisation's proceedings. To revitalise the party, corrective measures must have begun from day one after the election results but rather than focusing on honest, dispassionate and objective evaluation, Congress is trapped in an unnecessary situation. Any new president of the Congress party will have to innovate strategies to counter BJP's expertise in magnifying, distorting, misrepresenting and exploiting every political issue in its favour. Congress has no such mechanism and certainly not a piece of machinery to propagate and execute its programs and plans.
There is no inadequacy of competent leaders in Congress who are administratively well qualified to lead the party. Names such as Dr Manmohan Singh, A K Antony, Motilal Vora, Dr Karan Singh, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, Sheila Dikshit, Ambika Soni, Gulam Nabi Azad, Tarun Gogoi, Verappa Moily, Anand Sharma, Oommen Chandy, P Chidambaram, Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Capt. Amrinder Singh, and Meira Kumar are of no less eminence. They might have their positive as well as negative serviceability depending on from which angle you see them. But any of them can run the Congress with the help of a set of working presidents or vice presidents.
There are views that only administrative abilities are not sufficient for the captaincy of Congress like a pan-Indian party. The party cadre and common people across the nation must perceive the new face as someone who can lead them. To attain this position s/he will require indomitable support from Rahul-Sonia-Priyanka and party's infantry troopers. Where is that persona?
I have no idea if Congress supporters in our country are acclimatised for out of the way experimentations, but if they have an appetite to digest it, the top job can be assigned to KC Venugopal, Jairam Ramesh, Shashi Tharoor, Sam Pitroda, Rajeev Satav, Milind Deora, Gaurav Gogoi , and Randeep Surjewala. If you want to go many steps further you can even think of Raj Babbar, Navjot Singh Siddhu and Sanjay Nirupam also for holding the presidency. In this case, why not to consider Aslam Sherkhan who has 'very kindly offered' his services to hold the position for two years. I would pray the God almighty to not bless the decision makers to take such 'revolutionary' steps!
With elections in Haryana and Maharashtra in October-November this year, in Delhi and Jharkhand early next year and in Bihar in October 2020; Congress cannot afford to bank on an untested shoulder. Congress is no Bhartiya Janta Party where a Bangaru Laxman or a Jena Krishnamurti or a JP Nadda can be put on a pedestal and its party cadre, with very effective assistance from strong RSS network, can take care of the rest of the things. In addition to this, for past 6-7 years "MoSha factor"—where Modi and Shah spare no stone unturned—has beaten all the normal equations of any political challenge. If Rahul's determination in neutralising Narendra Modi is not sufficient to delight high-handed brokers within Congress, who else will be able to hold waters?
(The author is Editor & CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. Views expressed are strictly personal)
******Photo Caption: Congress has been in limbo and its workers are disappointed with organisational tensions (Representational Image)****