Journalist and author
Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh may be ruing a moment way back in 2006 when they reportedly vetoed a suggestion to draft Arvind Kejriwal as an information commissioner. This was a time when there was a lot of euphoria after the Right to Information had become a reality. There were many crusaders with a cause and Kejriwal, winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, in recognition of his involvement in the grassroots level movement, Parivartan, had resigned from the government service.
Sonia was reportedly advised that Kejriwal was cheeky and irreverential towards her, Dr Manmohan Singh and the rest. Looking back, it seems she did Kejriwal a favour as years in the Central Information Commission would have, by now, made him cynical and an authority on writing long notes of dissent.
Kejriwal, barely two years older to Rahul Gandhi, poses a huge challenge to the Congress and the Gandhis. Comparisons are unfair but relevant. It’s not just the age factor between Rahul (born June 19, 1970) and Kejriwal (August 16, 1968) but the Aam Aadmi Party leader’s urban appeal and ability to deal a body blow to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo — not once, but twice.
For, last fortnight, a number of Congress leaders and sympathisers were heard gushing over Kejriwal’s ability to negotiate tricky passages such as the pro- and anti-CAA controversy, primacy of religion and the Delhi Chief Minister’s penchant to attract the rich, poor, women and youth alike. The Delhi success after 2013, 2015 and 2020 has pitched Kejriwal as a sort of legend outside Delhi in every region where the Congress and the Gandhis have some foothold and imprints.
The path of Kejriwal emerging as a national player is hazy and fraught with many challenges. There is little merit in the so-called abilities of a state leader emerging as a national alternative but it is also an open secret that the Delhi Chief Minister has ambitions that go beyond the Capital.
His move to contest against Narendra Modi from Varanasi in 2014 and attempts in Punjab in 2017 provide ample proof. But years in public life have had some sobering impact on Kejriwal. The chances of AAP expanding its base outside Delhi are little because there are fewer opportunities. Punjab is, incidentally, not off the AAP-Kejriwal radar where incumbent Chief Minister Amarinder Singh would be nearing 80 when the next round of Assembly polls are held.
In the context of national politics, virtually every non-NDA political party is looking for an alternative to Modi. Parties like the Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal, DMK, Left parties, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, TDP and others are totally disappointed with Rahul’s ability to take on the Modi regime on the deteriorating situation in Jammu & Kashmir, matters of national security, slowdown of economy, vigilantism and a range of other issues. The deep-rooted anti-Congressism has existed for decades when the grand old party was in power and the Congress’ task of leading from the front has been more wishful than based on ground realities.
So far, the regional parties have had their own problems. Without a national party like the Congress, they do not stand much of a chance to take on the Modi government on foreign policy, defence and economic issues.
A Delhi-centric politician who has offered hope and delivered on the ground can be a good bait for future. It’s an open fact that many regional leaders like Uddhav Thackeray, MK Stalin and Naveen Patnaik are happy to be regional players. Just as regional satraps in the 1996-1998 United Front era had looked and opted for HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral type of prime ministers, 2024 may throw a similar situation.
The presence of the Nehru-Gandhi family at the head of the party is a big obstacle to stitching a broad-based anti-Modi front. There is no dearth of Congress leaders who feel that the leadership of such a front should be with the Congress.
However, warhorses like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Pawar, Mayawati, Chandrasekhar Rao and even Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik have an aversion towards the Sonia and Rahul Gandhi-led Congress. In the recent past, the ADMK, TMC and BJD have given enough hints that their opposition to the NDA notwithstanding, they do not like playing second fiddle to the Congress.
On his part, Rahul has done little or nothing to reach out to the opposition parties. Both Sonia and the Congress seem allergic to the idea of experimenting or looking for an out-of-the-box solution.
Any serious conversation would lead to pointers that how frequent polls in the country’s 29 states put pressure on the leadership to be constantly in the campaign mode rather than focusing on the revamp of the organisation. But there is no plausible explanation as to why the Congress leadership waited for six months to find a successor to former Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit when the timeline for the Delhi polls was known.
Some say the root cause of the problem is that both Rahul and Sonia see themselves as trustees of the party, and not wielders of power, which is what they are. This delusion is destroying the Congress, but the party leaders seem to be ignoring this crucial aspect.
With each passing day, Sonia has an eye on history. She wishes to be remembered as an inspirational and exceptional success story. But her son’s diffident approach and inflexibility may prompt contemporary political writers to write something very different.
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