Farcical drama

Confused Rahul Gandhi loyalists

A mutiny of sorts by 14 AICC secretaries against the old guards for covertly attacking Rahul Gandhi , has stupefied the Congress watchers.

Forty-five years ago then Congress president S Nijalingappa led a revolt against Indira Gandhi, who was then prime minister, and expelled her from the party for  “fostering a cult of personality”. That  action was culmination of a long-drawn battle for supremacy between the old guards and Indira Gandhi.
Seniors comprising Nijalingappa, Morarji Desai, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and a few others who formed a ginger group called ‘Syndicate,’ were unable to stomach the style of functioning of the 52-year-old Indira, derisively dubbed ‘goongi  gudiya.’ Consequently, in the winter of 1969 the party split with the old guards forming Congress (O). The rest, including how a crafty Indira outmanoeuvred the septuagenarians, is history. In 1998, the Congress faced another tricky situation when late Sitaram Kesri and P V Narasimha Rao ganged up to control the party and tried to stymie a takeover by Sonia Gandhi. However, ably assisted by the powerful the Congress Working Committee mandarins, Sonia eased out Kesri, a rootless wonder, as party president.

Circa 2014. History of sorts may not repeat for two reasons. One the Congress does not have a towering, pan-India leader  to challenge the Gandhis; two, dynasty is in Congress DNA and the party has no existence sans the family.

But then, a mutiny of sorts last week by a bunch of young AICC secretaries against the old guards for covertly attacking heir apparent Rahul Gandhi, has stupefied the Congress watchers. Though the so called revolt  turned out to be a storm in the tea cup, the fact that the Grand Old Party  has come to  such a denouement  is something  that should worry the leadership as well as the rank and file.

Questions are now being asked how a band of 14 obscure AICC secretaries dared to warn the seniors against going public criticising Rahul Gandhi. Their campaign ostensibly was against some senior  leaders who had flayed Rahul’s style of his functioning and indirectly the Gandhi scion for the electoral debacle. 

Was the secretaries’  activism orchestrated?  If so,  by whom? Since it is apparently  a pro-Rahul crusade, it can be construed as a move propped up by Rahul himself against the old guard. If that be the case then  it is unbecoming of the Congress vice president that he needs the crutches of a few secretaries, who are much lower in the AICC pecking order,  to take on the seniors. Rahul camp followers, however, claim that this group acted on its own without  his knowledge or  blessings. And that is why only 14 out of 42-odd secretaries signed the petition. If  Rahul was behind the move he could have got all them to sign the letter.

However, what is intriguing is how  these secretaries, who do not have any mass base dared to take on entrenched old guard including CWC members and general secretaries, without any fear?  And why Sonia Gandhi and Rahul have been  indulgent towards them? In normal times, disciplinary action could have been taken against them.

Restraining strategy

The 14 of them met in Delhi last week to chalk out a strategy to restrain the seniors some of  them  they believe are trying to undermine Rahul’s leadership. Subsequently, they  authored  a joint letter addressed to Janardan Dwivedi, general secretary in charge of organisation.  The main thrust of the letter was that the seniors should be restrained from going to media to slight Rahul.

The farcical nature of the drama is underscored by the fact that before petitioning  Dwivedi,  some of these  secretaries briefed  mediapersons  to vent  their anger against  the erring  seniors.  And  Dwivedi,  in turn,   snubbed them for going to the media with an internal party matter. He, however, promptly forwarded their letter to the seniors  with an advisory that they refrain from airing their views on Rahul in public.

Though Dwivedi effected a truce of sorts, the avoidable spectacle  has exposed  the deep disquiet within the party. It also shows that  the  leadership has not learned any lessons from the resounding and  humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. So far, factional battles have been confined to states.  Now, the  scourge  is spreading to the  AICC, a portend that does not augur well for the party already facing multiple demons.
How will a disconnected party fight the upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana (both Congress-ruled),  Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand remains to be seen. A defeat in a key state like Maharashtra will further undermine the party and demoralise its cadre.  Some in the party even suspect that the shadow boxing between pro-Rahul and old guards  are a ploy to insulate the Gandhis  and apportion  blame for the anticipated defeats in the Assembly polls. It is baffling that instead of embarking on a serious course correction, the party men are busy belittling each other.  Not even a proper post-mortem has been done to determine the factors that led to the debacle in the  polls. The A K Antony committee report on the party’s defeat submitted to Sonia Gandhi last month has become controversial with even senior leaders questioning some of his assumptions.

Governance deficit in UPA II, partisan media, Rahul’s  failure to capture the voters’ imagination, corporate houses dumping the Congress for BJP,  party ignoring the 100 million-odd young electors,  wrong candidate selection,  losing perception war, failure to communicate to people are among  the reasons proffered by the  leaders for the defeat of the party, but the reasons vary from leader to leader.

The Congress leaders  are like the  three apocryphal  blind men who went to see an elephant  After  touching  parts of the pachyderm, each one came out with a different  conclusion about the contours  of the behemoth. Unless their sights are restored  the Congress will continue to wallow in political obscurity. 

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