Congress Under Modi Raj
One year down the line, the same officebearers continue to occupy the same offices at 24 Akbar Road, the Mecca of the Congress workers and the headquarters of the Congress party. Understandably, the workers are both depressed and demoralised. The situation has been worsened by continued speculation on whether Rahul will be made the Congress president, when that will happen, and what would be the modalities of this change within the Congress Party
The last 365 days have been the most difficult for the Gandhi family and the bigger Congress parivar as the grand old party suffered its worst defeat ever, being reduced to a mere 44 MPs as the Lok sabha general elections dealt the most humiliating defeat to the congress at the hands of Narendra Modi who promised the country deliverance from corruption and a Congress-free India.
It’s a strange co-incidence that Rahul Gandhi, Sonia gandhi’s successor to the throne of the Congress empire, was also 44 and the man being blamed by the party for its dismal performance. While Congress leaders were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the defeat, there was a sense of quiet jubiliation by Congress workers who felt the arrogance of the party leaders and the sidelining of the Congress workers was in large part the reason for the defeat.
After the defeat, there was a sense of huge expectation by the Congress cadre and the rank and file. It was expected that the party leadership would introspect deeply and pinpoint responsibility and assimilate the reasons for the defeat. It was expected that there would be a grand reshuffle where those responsible would be put out to pasture and a set of new office bearers would be given responsibility. There was expectation of an AICC meeting being called, where workers would be given the chance to have their say on what went wrong and how matters could be put right.
But to the astonishment of most congress leaders and workers, none of these things happened. Except for one Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting where the congress president and the congress vice president offered their resignations which were rejected by the meeting. But beyond this there was no reshuffle, no changes, no fixing of responsibility and no attempt to delve deep and unearth what really went wrong.
One year down the line, the same officebearers continue to occupy the same offices at 24 Akbar Road, the Mecca of the Congress worker and the headquarters of the Congress party. Understandably, the workers are both depressed and demoralised. The situation has been worsened by continued speculation on whether Rahul will be made the Congress president, when that will happen, and what would be the modalities of this change within the Congress Party.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last one year emerged as the man wholly and absolutely in control of both his party and the government with the rest of the team looking like pygmies, looking for direction and instructions from him, within the Congress party it was just the opposite.
Sonia Gandhi had begun giving him more and more responsibility but Rahul had different ideas from his mother on how the party should run. He blamed the seniors, Sonia’s core team for the debacle and the fact that he was not able to take decisions and was outvoted on most important issues. The party became tangled in seniors versus juniors and while there was no clear line of leadership, confusion and chaos became the order of the day.
Rahul’s appointees at various levels began attacking the senior leaders of the party, sending the signal loud and clear that there was a vertical divide in the party. Rahul rejected Sonia gandhi’s names for a new set of office bearers and she rejected his, clearly indicating she had no confidence in his choice of men and women.
Finally the showdown between mother and son came when he insisted that some senior leaders should be sacked, failing which he may need to reconsider his options. But sources say an adamant Sonia Gandhi stuck to her guns and said she cannot agree to the sacking of senior Congressmen who had been with her for the last 10 years and who had been instrumental in running both the party and the government .
An angry Rahul Gandhi, disappeared soon after that on what was being called a leave of absence, a sabbatical to think about the future of the party and what needed to be done to put the Congress back on the rails. He returned after two months, once again refueling the speculation about being made Congress president.
Within the Congress there is a great deal of anger that outsiders who have left the party and returned or who travelled into the Congress from various other parties are in prominent positions of power and authority and many of them have the backing of Rahul Gandhi. Along with this the Congress leadership also made no attempt to build a second line of leadership, with power being vested in just one leader to the exclusion of all else. Whether it be late Y S Rajshekhar Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana, Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh, Captain Amrinder Singh in Punjab, Sheila Dixit in Delhi or Vir Bhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh, no leadership was developed in numerous states, leading to a huge vaccum.
After the big defeat, there was no focus on the states going to the polls. Bihar assembly polls are to be held later this year but the Congress party continues to be in ‘sleep mode’. No agitation programme, no tours and visits of senior leaders and no movement on likely alliances or strategy.
What is interesting according to a senior party leader is that the Congress is continuing to attack Narendra Modi and the BJP government on any and every issue but the party has failed to focus on itself, to correct its shortcomings, set its house in order in various states, and prepare for elections wherever polls are to be held.
Another leader said, It is as if the congress leadership believes that whenever Modi fails the congress will automatically step into the government shoes and will be back in the seat of power. That is what happened in 2004 when shining India boomeranged on the then BJP government and Congress was back in the seat of power. The party leadership believes that the Achhe Din slogan will also boomerang and in a repeat of 2004, the Congress will return after the collapse of the BJP government.
In a continuity of that line of thinking, the congress has upped the ante against the BJP government on the completion of 365 days of the government. Congress spokespersons have been fanned out across the country to hold simultaneous press conferences to criticize the government and this carpet bombing at a huge cost to the party exchequer will be on display for five days, climaxing on May 26 when the Modi government took the oath of office. Congress leaders say this is the brain wave of Rahul Gandhi who wants to mobilise the party to take on Modi and his government, just one year into power.
But Congress leaders and workers are asking more questions than there are answers. There are serious reservations within the party over his leadership. After a silence and inaction along with lack of responsibility which lasted almost 11 years, Rahul Gandhi has, after his sabbatical been more active, more aggressive, more vocal in parliament, is attacking the government on farmers issues, is touring various parts of the country etc.
Those who have met him say he is less restless, listens more, has become a little more polite and a little abrasive and abusive in his behavior.
But has Rahul really changed? Or are the changes merely superficial ?
A recent incident gives the lie to the many who insist that Rahul is a changed man. At a recent visit to Punjab to see firsthand the woes of the farmers, he was received by a Congress MLA who had brought some farmers to meet Rahul Gandhi. The farmers had suffered huge losses and wanted to tell the Congress vice president their problems in person. The moment the young Gandhi laid eyes on the MLA he wanted to know what he was doing there, who had asked him to come and in no uncertain terms told him to leave. In fact the words used were â€œget out and get lostâ€. He said he would meet the farmers on his own and so on¦
Its not surprising that the MLA was hugely upset at being humiliated in this way. Rahul Gandhi in his personal interactions with party leaders has been known to be abrasive and rude with a number of them. Party leaders are also upset that many of those close to Rahul, who are seen to be taking decisions or influencing his decisions are being paid by the AICC. For example Raju, a former IAS officer has been made the chairman of the scheduled caste department of the AICC. He is paid Rs 2 lakh a month, given a house in nearby Meena Bagh with paid staff and the entire package costs AICC Rs 2 crores a year. His brief is to identify and build SC leadership through the country. So far no tangible results are evident.
Like Raju, there are many others who are paid on the say so of Rahul Gandhi. Another favourite is Mohan Gopal who is now overall incharge of the Jawahar Bhawan, or Sachin Rao advisor to Youth Congress or Manish Sharma, advisor to NSUI. There is a long list of paid pals of Rahul Gandhi in his office, much to the amasement of the rest of the party which is unfamiliar with this culture.
On the face of it, 24 Akbar Road is the official headquarters of the Congress party but all the meetings and key decisions are taken at 15 Gurudwara Rakabganj road which is shrouded in secrecy and which is not open to any unauthorized persons (read media).Â In earlier times, CWC meetings etc would be held at 24 Akbar road but with the congress leadership having done away with the culture of holding CWC meetings, except as obituary meetings, the high powered CWC has become almost redundant, a thing of the past.
Large sections of the party are skeptical of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Sonia Gandhi may want her son to take over the reigns of the Congress party but leaders say she is worried about the lack of consensus regarding the Congress vice president. She is credited with the view that unless there is wider acceptability regarding Rahul’s leadership, the party may face tougher times ahead. She has also been advised that this is possibly the worst time for the party, with the tally having sunk so low and the congress on the road to losing many of the coming assembly elections like Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh where the party is virtually non-existent and the leadership has made no moves to revitalise the party in many of these states.
Congress leaders say that in Rahul’s absence, the party had returned to his original fighting mode with Sonia Gandhi leading a march to Dr Manmohan singh’s house, leading 14 political parties to the president to protest the land bill and at the same time, acting as the leader in the Rajya Sabha when it came to taking on the ruling BJP on a number of bills.
The confusion prevalent in earlier times had ebbed but with Rahul back, Sonia Gandhi has once again taken the back seat, possibly giving him yet another chance to establish his leadership. In the pre-2014 scenario, the comparison between Rahul gandhi’s leadership and that of Narendra Modi had given the latter a head start with large sections of the voters leaning towards Modi and seeing him as more mature and more political in his demeanour.
BJP leaders say that Rahul Gandhi is their best insurance policy. Many congressmen do not disagree with that assessment. They are waiting and watching to see how long he remains in the active mode and whether the so-called transformation is permanent or a mere flash in the pan.
But Modi or no Modi, for the congress it’s a long haul, a long uphill climb. The party which is in the midst of organizational elections, has extended its membership drive for another month, with reports coming in that workers are not enthusiastic about enrolling members. They charge that outsiders who have been given plum posts would continue to rule in the party and most of them would remain where they are. Some leaders say that under Rahul, the worker is not enthused to successfully bring in more members into the party fold.
Even those who have large number of members to their credit are either ignored or bypassed by the party leadership leading to charges that there is no fair playing field in the congress and even a massive defeat has not changed the manner in which the party functions.
By Renu Mittal