View: Congress morphs back into Rahul-mukt Congress
Congress needs to rediscover and reaffirm what it stands for as a party, and work from the ground up to rebuild itself.
Sonia Gandhi is witness to what happens to a Congress leader who liberates himself from the party’s old guard, denounces them as powerbrokers and relies on a younger set of leaders who conduct politics like managing a company, complete with data analysis and strategies to woo market segment after market segment. She saw Rajiv Gandhi’s whiz kids advise him on matters such as the Shahbano judgment, which placated the mullahs and angered the ordinary Indian, to placate whom the strategists advised opening the gates of the temple at the Babri mosque. She saw a prime minister with two-thirds majority in Parliament being chased, figuratively speaking, down the lanes and bylanes of the country, frenzied mobs crying ‘thief,’ the old guard leaving her husband to fend for himself with the help of his whiz kids, who, while happy to advise their leader on the 21st century, preferred to look for fresh pastures where to whiz, rather than join their leader in flight mode.
She seems to have failed in passing on this insight to her son. Rahul Gandhi wished to pass on the party presidentship to a nominee, even as he played the moral, end-of-dynasty card, but the Congress working committee has foiled this plan and made his mother the president, albeit an interim one with indefinite tenure. It signals comprehensive rejection of Rahul’s leadership of the party and his attempt to retain control through a proxy.
The Congress Old Guard floated the proposal that a Dalit leader should be the next Congress president. This would have meant one of them, Mukul Wasnik, Mallikarjun Kharge or Kumari Selja, the favoured names being firm members of the Old Guard, and not a neophyte bright spark picked by Rahul Gandhi, a few of whom recently proved their mettle by walking out of the party, for example Sidhu in Punjab or Alpesh Thakore in Gujarat.
Two developments stood out in the runup to the CWC meeting. One, Rahul Gandhi tried to intervene in the choice of his own replacement as party president, by announcing the party would consult with PCC leaders, parliamentary party leaders and All India Congress Committee secretaries, before the CWC chooses his replacement. This went against his earlier stand that he would not be involved in the process of choosing the next party president. And, by sheer coincidence, a large number of those people whom he wanted to consult on choice of the next party president, happen to be those appointed by Rahul Gandhi as party president.
As part of this intervention, it was also suggested that the opinions of those consulted would be recorded by CWC subgroups. As @CLManojET tweeted, which politician who still hopes to make it big in the Congress would like to take a written stand against the wishes of Rahul Gandhi while he still was not formally out of the leadership framework?
The other significant development was a bunch of Rahul nominees and favourites being exposed as people without core conviction on the values of democracy professed by the Congress or knowledge of its own past, following the government’s move to scrap Article 370 and Congressmen finding themselves caught between the popular mood of people in their electoral constituencies and the official Congress stance.
As it transpired, the CWC stuck to the party constitution on how the party president would be elected, just the 24 general secretaries of the party and the president voting. Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to retain control via a proxy was defeated, seemingly without rancour: after all, who can object to Mrs Sonia Gandhi as interim president?
The Congress needs to rediscover and reaffirm what it stands for as a party, and work from the ground up to rebuild itself and shape society around the values of liberal democracy, in order to counter the wave of majoritarianism washing over India.
For that, the party needs to stay coherent. The old guard did not do a great job of deepening democracy in a society steeped in a tradition of hierarchy and a million sectarian solidarities. But it stands a better chance of correcting course than do bright young things who deigned to dirty their hands with politics, leaving behind lucrative professions around the world, when their parents died in the midst of their highflying political careers, and see politics as power, without a clear notion as to the end to which that power they seek is to be deployed.
As the caste based parties of North India pass their expiry date, a vacuum is opening up that needs to be filled. Whether the Congress would move in to occupy the space or something else would come up depends on the political imagination of the Congress Old Guard, who have regained the reins of the party, after Rahul Gandhi fumbled his chance at the helm, with Sonia Gandhi agreeing to serve as the figurehead, to preserve a chance for a Gandhi at least somewhere down the line.