Sonia: Time For Action
After the party defeat in Uttar Pradesh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is said to be deeply worried about how the future political moves would pan out and how it would affect the future of son Rahul Gandhi.
She has been speaking openly to a number of people who have visited her recently saying that she has ensured a large number of programmes are given to the government like Narega, RTI, Bharat Nirman, etc but it is for the government and the leaders to ensure they are implemented and the benefits reach the people. She has said that as the party president she can only lay down policies and give guidelines but it is for the leaders in the states and the Centre to see them through.
The fact is that she is looking and sounding helpless since she does not want what more could have been done to win the elections in UP with her main area of concern being that Rahul Gandhi worked hard as he campaigned through the length and breadth of the state and the rest was devastating for him, say party insiders.
But the fact is that Sonia Gandhi herself while being the president of the Congress organisation has given little or no time to the organisation with decisions pending not for days and weeks but for years and the party functioning on an ad hoc manner with no accountability and no responsibility.
Taking a leaf out of Narasimha Rao’s book that not taking a decision is a decision, she has remained a status quoits and in the last 12 years has played musical chairs with the same faces, refusing to build new leaders in the party. A large number of senior and experienced leaders have been shunted out and are actually out of sight out of mind.
With PCC Presidents in at least 8 states yet to be appointed, AICC General Secretaries and other office bearers in line to be changed, Congress Chief Ministers in the firing range with party MLAs wanting a change, a large number of gubernatorial appointments needing to be made and a reshuffle of the council of ministers on the cards, the Congress President appears to be in no hurry to affect the required changes with agitated partymen, women and workers now openly criticising the status quo approach of the party leadership.
Rahul Gandhi on the other hand, while slipping into an unrecognised corner after the more than poor showing in Uttar Pradesh, appears to be surfacing now, having called a meeting of party MLAs and other others on April 6. Apart from the 28 who have won, he also called those who emerged second in the elections and he would be touring their constituencies for a thanks giving rally. He also interacted with MPs from the state as well as those who had lost the MPs election in 2004 and 2009 but got over a lakh votes.
A number of senior leaders want Rahul Gandhi to dump his involvement with the NSUI and the Youth Congress and want him to take on a more active and hands on role in running the affairs of the parent congress party. With Sonia Gandhi unable or unwilling to take decisions for a long period of time, the feeling is growing that this inertia is hurting the party, its governments and bringing down the morale of the workers and even senior leaders.
The fact that Rahul Gandhi believes in the inner party system of elections, say Congress leaders is a healthy sign and signals well for democratic functioning. In sharp contrast, Sonia Gandhi was quick to stop the practice of holding elections to the Congress Working Committee, the highest decision-making body of the Congress. The elections to elect half the CWC members was a challenge for Congress leaders to prove their popularity and mass base within the organisation and helped bring up leaders who had wide networking amongst congressmen in various states. It was also a way of bringing to the top men and women of enterprise who were go getters in their own right and not dependent on the leadership to be labeled as “leaders”.
But under the influence of her coterie, which consisted of men and women who could never win an election, either inside the party or outside it, and who were threatened by this form of party democracy, they persuaded Sonia Gandhi, soon after she became the Congress President to stop the practice of holding elections.
Later she made the CWC into a defunct body which was only called to pass obituary resolutions and where all meaningful debate and discussion had been curtailed simply because the leadership did not appear to want to hear the wide ranging views of leaders who had been sourced from various states, caste and class structures. Many of them were grass rooters with a lifetime of experience in practical down to earth politics but bit by bit most of them were sidelined and the CWC itself is hardly ever called anymore.
Instead, the Congress President put in place the Congress Core Committee consisting of 5 persons, most of whom including the Prime Minister are from the Rajya Sabha and it is this core committee which takes a decision on every issue under the sun from the smouldering Telangana to the antics of Anna Hazare etc. The fact that so much of wisdom has been vested in such a small group of leaders is evident by the fact that most key issues in the government and the party remain unresolved and that chaos and confusion persists on most fronts.
Even as Rahul Gandhi limited himself to the Youth Congress and NSUI, he did hold elections in these bodies to elect their presidents and while the men and women chosen were certainly not the best and the system was considerably faulty, it did drive home the point that Rahul who is seen as the natural successor to Sonia Gandhi is not afraid of elections and does not run away from taking decisions, and is seen in the same mould as his father the late Rajiv Gandhi before him.
The fact that Rahul Gandhi spent a great deal of time in the heat and dust of Uttar Pradesh elections and before that touring large parts of the country is again an indicator that despite the criticism against him, he is willing to learn and is not afraid of hard work.
After the huge drubbing the Congress received in Bihar where it won 4 assembly seats, the state PCC President Mohd Kaisar submitted his resignation to the leadership. But one and a half years after that, he is still continuing in his post, though rather shakily and uncertain because no one told him whether his resignation has been rejected or is simply in the pending file on Sonia Gandhi’s desk.
Today Bihar Congress men have trooped into Delhi and want to know the status of their PCC President. They say that the leadership only wakes up to their plight 6 months before elections, by which time it is too little, too late and no one is sure of what is going on. On top of that, they say they have been given an AICC General Secretary who does not understand the front from the back of caste ridden Bihar politics and who has made matters much worse for the party.
MLA and workers from Maharashtra are also coming to Delhi in batches. The MRCC President Kripa Shanker Singh has left under a cloud and there is so far no replacement. While some partymen are hectically lobbying for the post, others are trying to stop those who are lobbying while yet another group is only preparing dossiers on all those who are in the race. Nobody is interested in asking the MLAs what they want. The Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan who is known for not taking decisions and who has angered the bulk of the MLAs and Ministers by having a touch me not attitude wants the Maharashtra PCC President changed and this issue also stands unresolved.
In Rajasthan, the Congress MLAs have been camping and campaigning in Delhi, making the rounds of senior leaders and impressing upon them the need to change the state Chief Minister who has alienated the bulk of the castes from the party and who is now seen as a liability by the majority of the party. Whether it be the Jats, the Bishnois, the Muslims, the Gujars, the Meenas, the Scheduled Castes and now the Rajputs, all sections have turned against the party, making the MLAs ask the question of how they will get re-elected in the next round of Assembly polls due next year.
The Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was the chief minister last time around also when the congress was in power, and this time again he has been made the CM, with Sonia Gandhi afraid to bring in other leaders and put them at the helm of affairs. This is the story of the entire party with a handful of leaders in the spotlight, and they are the CWC members, the General Secretaries, the Chairmen of Screening Committees, the Observers, the Committee Members etc. There is neither any fresh voice nor any fresh views.
The Congress President does not appear to be realising that workers are deeply unhappy at the style of functioning and feel that those who have grassroots support and win elections are neglected while the power brokers call the shots and prosper. A case in point is Uttarakhand where after a marginal victory the choice of the MLAs Harish Rawat was ignored and the man who was made the Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna was seen as an outsider in the state and did not fit the bill in any category except that some senior leaders wanted him.
When Sonia Gandhi says she does not know what she can do beyond what she has done, she must take into account the state of the organisation which helps any party win or lose elections and whether justice has been done to the organisation in terms of taking the right decisions at the right time and putting in suitable persons at the helm of affairs.
By Renu Mittal