THE truce in the Rajasthan Congress marks another round of a fascinating tussle between the party’s old guard and the young brigade at the national level.
All eyes are on Rahul Gandhi now. The 87th president of the AICC is all set to stage a comeback, replacing ‘interim’ party president Sonia Gandhi. It will be interesting to see whether Sonia will be taking a clean break from the Congress organisation. She is also the Lok Sabha MP from Raebareli and chairperson of the Congress party in Parliament, so taking a full-time retirement from active politics is not an easy option for her. Sonia is perhaps contemplating not to entertain or meddle in the Congress party affairs.
Rahul had resigned as the Congress president on May 25, 2019, after the Lok Sabha poll debacle. Ideally, he wanted to return with an electoral success. But that prospect is nowhere in sight. Congress managers then thought of the second-best option of projecting him as the saviour of the Congress government in Rajasthan and one capable of resolving the in-house rebellion. While party managers wish to crown Rahul with all glory, the party rank and file is eyeing Priyanka Gandhi eagerly with a sense of greater expectations.
In the absence of Sonia, Congress leaders of all hue and shades want Priyanka Gandhi to step in her role as a listening post, mediator, arbitrator and peace-maker — all clubbed together. As speculated in The Tribune (‘Priyanka as crisis manager in Rajasthan’, July 20), Priyanka played a decisive role in bringing back Pilot from the verge of a full-fledged rebellion.
Throughout a month-long crisis, Priyanka kept a direct line of communication open with him and when Rahul met Pilot at 15, Gurdwara Rakabganj Road, New Delhi, that is nicknamed as the Congress ‘war room’, her presence ensured no trace of bitterness. Rather, a sense of camaraderie and purpose was in the air.
The Gandhis have a long history of working in pairs. Therefore, chances of a ‘Rahul versus Priyanka’ narrative are minimal. During Jawaharlal Nehru’s tenure as PM, Indira was his shadow. She was the AICC chief in 1959 when the first communist government headed by EMS Namboodiripad was dismissed. Once, when Nehru was asked about Indira as the Congress president, he had remarked that it was not a great idea to be facing the party chief at the breakfast table every morning.
Indira’s son Sanjay did not opt for a formal post in the Congress (except for a brief stint as the AICC general secretary), but was considered on a par with Indira in many organisational and administrative matters. Sanjay’s brother Rajiv became the AICC general secretary in 1983 when Indira was the prime minister. He was given a room at 24, Akbar Road, next to Indira. Rajiv’s word mattered and most ministers in the Indira cabinet were often seen waiting outside his office. Sonia’s own functional relationship with Rahul between 2006 and 2014 saw a clear demarcation when UPA ministers were not encouraged to call on him. But during 2014-20, the Sonia-Rahul pair saw lot of drift, inaction and electoral setbacks even as Priyanka was drafted as an additional force.
Rahul has a distinct style of functioning. He is often seen as antagonistic and far less accommodating towards his party leaders. The Congress is not used to it since the Sanjay-Rajiv-Indira era as successive party leaders like PV Narasimha Rao, Sitaram Kesri and Sonia tried to keep party leaders and the regional satraps in good humour. In politics, authority often comes from success. Rahul’s previous tenure as the AICC president for 17 months suffered as he could seldom act from a position of strength.
It will be curious to see how Sonia ensures Rahul’s return as the Congress chief. She can use multiple leverages to force her exit and make the outgoing Congress Working Committee accept Rahul as the party head. Covid-19 has given the Congress enough reasons to cut short the party poll process. If the CWC is dissolved, would Priyanka contest to find a place in the apex decision-making body. The Congress party poll process has already been delayed and there is a fear that the Election Commission, empowered to ensure inner party democracy, may act against the grand old party. There are too many questions begging an instant response. The once successful and now jaded style of thanda kar ke khao (let things cool down) of the Congress would not work as there is no luxury of time.
About Rajasthan, many think Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot won the round as he forced dissident Sachin Pilot to return without getting anything substantive. But that is merely one way of looking at it. Gehlot wanted to politically finish off Pilot, but the rival has survived. What is more important is that Pilot wants to stay in Rajasthan politics instead of taking a position in the AICC secretariat.
The present prescription of a panel looking into Pilot’s grievances is merely a fig leaf and a short-term measure. Anyone familiar with the internal dynamics of the Congress would say that Gehlot is far too seasoned to be tamed by a panel of Delhi-based politicians. That’s where the Rajasthan truce has a political import for the old guard. Pilot’s retention signals Rahul’s resolve to work for a generational change. Will it be abrupt or in slow motion? In Sonia’s absence and with Priyanka tilting towards the younger lot, the old guard of the Congress is virtually on notice now.
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