From Trickle To A Torrent?
Who is responsible for such a sad state of the 129-year-old party, which not long ago was like a banyan tree that nothing grew under it? The answer is evident: The Gandhis, the mother and son, who in the last decade turned the party into a fiefdom which they ruled like dictators
Jokes sometimes reflect reality. The one that burned the wires: Sonia asked her beloved son Rahul to become President of the party. The son replied, “What Party?” One wonders if Rahul Gandhi in reality realises that his Congress party, of which he is the Vice-President is on terminal decline. The leaders still with the Congress have been reportedly thinking to be (in Congress) or not to be.
Who is responsible for such a sad state of the 129-year-old Party, which not long ago was like a banyan tree that nothing grew under it? The answer is evident: The Gandhis, the mother and son, who in the last decade turned the party into a fiefdom which they ruled like dictators. Not exactly politically savvy, the mother depended on a few close aides, who kept all those who had been sincere to the Party away. Only those vetted by this cabal sort team could meet Sonia Gandhi. The result, she was totally insulated from what factors were damaging her and the party’s credibility.
The Prince was lifted up into an ethereal world by being accorded with all the privileges and honours reserved for the Prime Minister. He surrounded himself with his mates, who like him came from affluent families and were habituated to cocktail and late night parties.
To make matters worse, Rahul shunned the media, refused to meet even veteran Congressmen and eminent people. He lived in a make-believe world where the real India and the Indians were lesser known than even Martians. Thus once he became Vice-President and campaign leader, the party’s decline gained momentum. His advisers and reportedly a Channel editor, equally ignorant about ground realities briefed him about his style and contents of speeches he gave at election rallies. The result, Congress kept on losing seats and ultimately was reduced to a rump in Lok Sabha, the all-important Lower House. A post-mortem and handing over of party affairs was expected at the Congress Working Committee meeting. Instead, the meeting ended according to the tradition in the party. A resolution was passed reposing faith in the mother and son and they were entrusted to plan for rejuvenation of the Congress.
The fact is that over decades, since Indira Gandhi’s era, party men were “trained and brain-washed” to become somewhat like puppies, which know only to wag their tails whenever the Royalty spoke or proposed. The late U C. Tiwari, Principal Information Officer, who was literally in the Rajiv team, once told me with a grin: “You know the Gandhis are god-gifted. They treat everyone in the party or even in bureaucracy like a dog. Once they don’t need them or get annoyed, they are kicked out.
“But if they again need any of the kicked ones, they just move their finger calling them, and they all with bowed head and muttering thank you, crawl back. It’s a great blessing.”
So the Gandhis, apart from the party men and leaders, are equally responsible for the decay of the party. But now their loyalty is wavering. For a Congressman, loyalty is for one who gets them elected and they become part of a ruling party. Now that the Gandhis have been facing one defeat after another, the party leaders’ loyalties are wavering.
A ripple has been caused by the resignation of Jayanthi Natarajan, the lady Minister who claimed for decades that in her veins Congress blood ran but possibly now all her Congress blood drained out.
Natarajan whose loyalty was never in doubt not only resigned from the Party but levelled charges against Rahul Gandhi, which if investigated, could, sources say, lead to criminal charges. Not that lady has come out clean. There are charges against her as well. Her ex-party men allege that her resignation stemmed from her fear of prosecution.
But Natarajan’s charge of interference persists and according to a columnist, it is correct. The columnist alleged that if the proposed project of Anil Agarwal had not been stopped under Rahul’s instructions, Agarwal would have built an aluminium refinery close to Bauxite reserves, which would have slashed world price of aluminium by half. But she alleges that international producers got nervous and used an ‘ageing socialite’ (married to a Rock Star a long ago) who was taken to Rahul Gandhi by a Delhi socialite famous for being close to the Dynasty. The deed was done. He told the tribal that he would be their sipahi in Delhi.
And living up to his role of a sipahi he commanded, says Natarajan, to reject Agarwal’s project.
If true, this was gross violation of rules. It was interference by a person who neither had authority nor any responsibility. The columnist cited another case alleging that rules for project tiger reserves were relaxed to enable friends of the family to set up plush tiger-spotting camps. More such revelations would make more party men fret.
But the way Rahul Gandhi continues to behave and the speeches he has been delivering, show that he has either failed to comprehend the critical spot his party is in or he is floating in the make-believe world, which his self-serving Sancho Panzas have woven. In his two outings in Delhi to promote his party candidates, he just ranted against Narendra Modi. He must have been briefed by his advisers to do so. He made a big hoo-haa about the suit Modi wore during President Obama’s visit to Delhi, alleging that it was worth Rs10 lakhs.
It would not require any analyst to say that such hilarious talks do not win votes, indeed lose many. Such ‘intelligence’ has naturally convinced party men that he is a completely useless (one particularly irate veteran used the word nincompoop) and can never lead the party to the victory mark. “Khud dooben ge aur hum sabko le doben ge” remarked a UP leader.
He firmly believes that Rahul is presiding over the liquidation of Gandhi Congress Private Company Ltd. Mercifully, with his inability to understand the politics and its nuances, or read the direction in which the political wind is blowing, he does not feel the pain of losing everything, his family’s ‘divine right’ to lord over the country and the trust people had in the Congress.
Increasingly, his party leaders know that their boss is beyond redemption and they have to fend for themselves if they wish to survive in politics. In such a situation the number of deserters is growing. Cadres in states are now in name only. Possibly been treated as prime minister by his Party, Rahul cannot, or is not capable of, comprehending that the 129-year-old Congress party has lost ground under it and is looking down an abyss.
When Rahul was anointed as Vice-President, amidst much cheering, he stated that he will on a priority basis reorganise state units and make them battle-ready. But except in the major states of Maharashtra and Assam, where state units are still there, no Congress state units are fully functional.
It may not be too long before odds are offered on whether Sonia’s Congress will be around at the next General Election in 2019. Number of gaya rams have been steadily increasing. News of open defiance of the once mighty High Command, splits and resignations has become a regular feature. The latest report was that in Jharkhand, four out of six Congress MLAs were about to resign. A few days earlier Jayanthi Natarajan, in her resignation letter had made accusations, that Sonia was reportedly shocked. The discipline in the party is almost not there. The fear of the Gandhis is a history.
Recently, another former Union Minister, Krishna Tirath, left the party to join the BJP and party general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi’s reported—and later disowned—comments deviated from the party’s official position on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In Tamil Nadu, without a care of how Sonia and Rahul will react, a no-holds- barred poster war broke out between the State Congress President EVKS Elangovan and P. Chidambaram factions. The criticism against each other splattered on walls in several cities.
It did not take much time for both the factions to take to the traditional campaign mode to speak out for their respective leaders. Walls in Tiruchi, Madurai, Erode, Chennai and Sivaganga were pasted with posters in which one faction condemned the other for bringing disrepute to the TNCC.
Tension had been simmering between the two groups ever since Karti Chidambaram, son of Chidambaram, came out in the open with his critical remarks on the functioning of the TNCC. Elangovan virtually asked Chidambaram and his son to quit the party, prompting the former Sivaganga MP to take up the matter with party president Sonia Gandhi. She later called up Mr. Elangovan and expressed displeasure over the timing of his statement, coming as it did on a day when senior leader Jayanthi Natarajan had quit the party.
More notably, Karti had stated that the state of the party was such that it will not get more than 5,000 votes in Tamil Nadu. No action was taken against him. The number has been dwindling so fast that the Gandhis dare not throw out anyone. Its cascading effect could create a crisis situation. Scathing accusations against Rahul by quite a few leaders are ominous signs, it means Gandhis’ iron-grip on the party has loosened. The signs of fragmentation of the party are already blipping red light.
Even a loyalist like Janardan Dwivedi admitted that “the Congress became ‘weak’ in the country because of ‘certain wrongs’ of the UPA-II leading to its present scenario,” and asserted the need to launch a struggle to strengthen the organisation. “Some wrongs of the UPA-2 have led to the present scenario of the party and it has to be seen that such mistakes are not repeated,” he said
Such observations would in the past have been considered as an act of indiscipline and the guilty person would be punished. But the Gandhis now do not have the gall to touch any leader. A churning in the existing power equations in the Congress seems imminent. Rahul is getting reconciled to its inevitability, sources say but he is reluctantly braving on because of his mother’s insistence. In fact, during his meetings with ‘seniors’—not the veterans with some base but those who lost election last year—he has asked them to prepare a plan to streamline the party and to win back the trust of the people.
But party leaders say he is dismantling old structures without creating the new. “He has not figured out what is to be done though he has broad plans. While he has a lot of floaters around him, he has not found enough people to implement his agenda,” an AICC secretary said.
Rahul does not realise that as the Congress’ and his fortunes continue to decline, more and more of its top-rung leaders have begun to develop a conscience, including some who continue to remain in the inner circle but who feel there is no political sense in remaining within the party.
In recent weeks many have resigned in Punjab and Odisha state units. A few cases have severely affected the party’s fortune.
To make the matter worse, over the past several months, the media has highlighted public comments by Congress leaders across the states of Kerala, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and now Tamil Nadu. Some of the adjectives used to describe Rahul Gandhi are far from flattering. But the common thread of criticism bending these allegation points towards the functioning of an all-powerful and opaque coterie of advisors linked to the Congress Vice President.
Ironically, Rahul Gandhi’s track record in itself exacerbates the internal criticism he encounters. Stories about the lack of access to him, the supposed humiliation of senior leaders by his staff and above all, his assumed regular international travel dominate allegations heard in hushed whispers. He is known more for his absence. When he does appear, his public presence is mostly restricted to sporadic hyperbolic activism rather than consistent political activity.
The image of a reluctant prince forced into politics yet seeking the perks of power has harmed him.
The people and party men have realised that he should be allowed by his mother to exit politics and let him be free to live the life of a flamboyant young-getting-middle-aged person from a family of immense fortune. He will be happy and so will the long-suffering Congressmen.
And as for Sonia Gandhi, hopefully sooner than later, she realises that she has been flogging a politically lame horse and it would be better if she quits and leaves the Party in the hands of real Congressmen. There are still some left, despite her and her son’s efforts to eliminate them.
If she does not do this then she would one day find that the Congressmen are rolling on another track and she and her son have no followers. A black mark about them would be the final epitaph of the Nehru Dynasty. The trickle of deserters will turn into torrent—to the great delight of the patrons of Congress Mukt Bharat.
By VIjay Dutt