Analysis: Second-generation leaders leaving Congress is a paradigm shift

Analysis: Second-generation leaders leaving Congress is a paradigm shift

The change in Rahul Gandhi's policy of getting more and more into street agitations, protests and not depending too much on “drawing board politicians” is a significant shift

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Tuesday, January 16, 2024, 08:38 PM IST
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Congress leader Milind Deora (left) has thrown in his lot with Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde | PTI

As Congress leader Rahul Gandhi launched his second cross-country road rally last week from Manipur, the national news media's focus got divided two ways on two events. Firstly focusing on the event happening in India's Northeastern state of Manipur, where Rahul started his crusade, and secondly focusing on the gathering happening in Mumbai, where Rahul's long-time associate and former Congress MP from South Mumbai Milind Deora announced that he had resigned from the Congress party's primary membership and had decided to join the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena. This became big news in Mumbai and Maharashtra as Milind belongs to a family that has been staunch Congress loyalists for over five decades. His father, Murli Deora, was one of the most trusted leaders of the Gandhi family since the early 1970s and was a pillar for the party in India's financial capital for decades.

Milind Deora is not the first young leader who was close to Rahul Gandhi and who has left the party. In Uttar Pradesh Jitin Prasad, in Madhya Pradesh Jyotiraditya Scindia, in Delhi RPN Singh left the Congress party between 2020 and 2022. All these young leaders were known to be from the “Rahul Gandhi camp”. In the runup to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, there was a situation where the Congress looked like it was perhaps divided between two camps — one camp of seniors who held big positions and were Sonia Gandhi loyalists, and the second of young leaders who were believed to be from the Rahul Gandhi camp. Occasionally there were stories seen in the media about how there were clashes between these two camps but the party outwardly remained and looked united. Now many from the Rahul Gandhi camp seem to be leaving one by one and these are especially sons of leaders who worked closely with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and later with former Congress President Sonia Gandhi. So in that sense all these leaders can be called second-generation Congress leaders.

It is interesting to see and analyse why these leaders are finding no space for themselves in the Congress party and have chosen to move to the BJP or NDA partners like in the case of Milind Deora. It is partly because they feel that the Congress, after losing the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, has little chance of doing well in the 2024 elections. They feel that a party which has 51 seats in the Lok Sabha can perhaps reach 100 or 125 seats even if it does exceedingly well in the 2024 polls, so it is difficult for the Congress to come to power at the centre. But the other reason why these second-generation leaders find no space in the “new Congress party” under Rahul Gandhi is more interesting. All these leaders have grown in an environment where their fathers were in power; their fathers held ministerial or other positions in the government. So these leaders have not been on the streets fighting agitations, they have not taken out rallies, they have never held street protests. They have got a good education, they did work hard on their strategies and networking, but they have not been mass leaders. This worked well for them in the Dr Manmohan Singh era where economic growth and results of liberalisation gave the Congress an edge over the Opposition. The second-generation leaders could win polls on the basis of legacy and the party's backing they enjoyed.

Now it seems like there is a paradigm shift. It is very clear that the Congress under Rahul Gandhi has realised that it cannot survive in future unless it goes to the streets and connects with the people directly. It cannot win polls unless it gets into street agitations and fights the BJP on issues like inflation and unemployment in an aggressive manner. That's the reason Rahul Gandhi is seen taking up road rallies and meeting the masses. In the process Rahul is also seen targeting the big industrialists and businessmen of the country and taking perhaps a sort of left-leaning stand. It is obvious that a suave South Mumbai leader like Milind Deora may not be comfortable in this type of a situation. Milind, just like his father, has been known to be industry-friendly and business-friendly. He has not been seen holding agitations too much as he comes from a highly developed South Mumbai constituency where people's issues are more about policy matters and ideology. It is clear that Milind does not find space in Rahul Gandhi's new Congress party.

“I want to work on an agenda that is constructive. I want to be on the path of development. I feel sad that my association with the Congress party is coming to an end. Until recently I did not think I would do this. But I cannot be part of a political agenda that focuses only on targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. I want to play a constructive role,” Milind Deora said while speaking with the media on Monday. The buzz in the political circles is that the BJP is keen to fight the South Mumbai Lok Sabha constituency itself instead of leaving it for the Shiv Sena as they did in 2014 and 2019. Shiv Sena candidate Arvind Sawant who won both times is now with Uddhav Thackeray. It was becoming obvious that since Congress and Uddhav Thackeray are in alliance, the Congress would not be able to get this seat for themselves. So the chances of Milind Deora getting the Congress party's ticket were slim. Now some sources say that the Shinde-led Shiv Sena has promised Milind Deora that he would be sent to the Rajya Sabha (RS) when the next round of polls are held for RS in the coming months.

The change in Rahul Gandhi's policy of getting more and more into street agitations, protests and not depending too much on “drawing board politicians” is a significant shift. It might get him benefits in certain parts of the country but in some urban constituencies it may not work effectively. Yet, Rahul seems to have firmly decided that he wants to move on this path. With this it may be noted that the Congress is certainly moving away from the Dr Manmohan Singh era of industry- and business-friendly politics.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune

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