Nearly headless Congress savaged by Rajasthan tussle

Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, must let the Congress Working Committee (CWC) — the party’s highest decision-making body — know on extending her tenure as the party’s interim chief next month. She has done a year in that role without any clue as to who should be her successor.

As the Election Commission mandates regular inner election in recognised parties as per their constitution, the CWC has to take a call to keep the poll panel informed about its next president.

By all available accounts, Rahul has still not shown any inclination to re-assume the post of Congress president, which he had quit in the wake of the severe drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019.

What we gather is that Sonia would still like Rahul to take over as the party president around August 9, putting the parliamentary defeat behind and preparing the party to face a string of state assembly polls next polls.

Even if a year has rolled by since Sonia assumed the role of interim chief in the hope of finding an acceptable president, the choice has again narrowed down to Rahul.

But he still "feels" the issues raised by him have not been answered and hence he must not assume the role at least in the near future. Rahul is still bitter with the role of his party leaders as much with Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP for the Congress getting just 52 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha against the BJP’s 303.

If we are to believe the insiders, Sonia thinks it has to be Rahul again whether it takes a month or a few more months. The rank and file won’t settle for any leader other than the Gandhi family member. Such a logic has drawn growing criticism within the anti-BJP sections backing the Congress about the “reluctance” of the Sonia Gandhi family to let go the reins of the party.

These sections point to the “crying” needs of national politics and encroaching “authoritarianism” that require a muscular opposition to begin effectively countering Modi who still retains a huge lead in popularity ratings — despite numerous problems afflicting the people at large. Should the Congress be in a perpetual “wait mode” for Rahul to make up his mind to resume charge as party chief, they ask.

In the meantime, before a final call is taken on the next Congress chief, there is already a power struggle in the organisation. The old guards are digging in their heels and in no mood to let the younger leaders play any significant role. Rather, they would promote their own sons and daughters as the next generation leaders!

In this context, the crisis being played out in Rajasthan shows the inability of the central leadership to act at the right time to prevent a meltdown.

It is shocking that despite Jyotiraditya Scindia’s departure from the Congress, resulting in collapse of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, no right lessons have been inferred by the Congress high command. Rather, the focus is on retaining the existing spoils by backing the old guards rather than sorting out factors causing internal rebellion in the first place.

No wonder the party circles are agog with the speculations about who is responsible for the current political crisis in Rajasthan, which has almost put the Congress-led government in danger? Is it Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who cannot stand his deputy Sachin Pilot? Or is it an ambitious Pilot who does not want to give up the post of Pradesh Congress chief?

We are told that Gehlot worked on three dossiers on Pilot’s alleged dalliance with the BJP though the latter has so far denied any truck with the saffron combine.

It should baffle any political observer that Gehlot chose to go for a police investigation into a “plot” to unseat him and make Pilot as CM. What more, the police were asked to send summons to Pilot to explain the “plot”! Naturally, Pilot saw the police summons not as a routine exercise but a calculated aggression against him by Gehlot.

But why would a seasoned Gehlot get into such a shenanigan that may even end up bringing his government down? There are no clear answers though Gehlot has always felt threatened by Pilot’s once proximity to Rahul and Priyanka — a factor that does not let the latter easily delink from the Congress family.

The Rajasthan CM also has been against Pilot continuing to hold the post of PCC chief for the last six years. Gehlot cannot forget the humiliation of his son Vaibhav losing in the Lok Sabha polls from Jodhpur. Gehlot had minced no words in blaming Pilot for the defeat, saying he should take responsibility (as PCC chief) even as many party leaders questioned the chief minister’s inability to ensure victory for his son. Gehlot may also want Vaibhav to be his political heir when he hangs his kurta. An unchallenged Pilot should not remain as the undisputed CM face when the next state polls are due in 2023.

On his part, Pilot cannot fathom why promises made to him are not honoured by Rahul when he led the Congress campaign for three years to successfully unseat Vasundhara Raje in the 2018 assembly poll. Much to his disappointment and utter contrast to Rahul’s own inclination for a fresh leadership, Sonia decided that an old guard like Gehlot was the best bet for CM’s post.

Not only has he undone the cases of land acquisition against Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Sonia, Gehlot has also cobbled up a comfortable majority for his regime. Therefore, Gehlot was able to stage a show of strength for the Congress on July 13.

But the tenuous nature of that strength was underlined by the need to herd the supporting MLAs together into luxury resorts when Pilot and his men made their mark by their absence at Jaipur meeting at Gehlot's residence.

No one disputes that the Congress cannot afford to lose government in another state, as it has already lost Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh even after forming the government following assembly elections there.

But does not the solution lie in settling the issue of leadership first at the top — once for all.

The writer is a former Senior Associate Editor of Hindustan Times and Political Editor of Deccan Herald, New Delhi

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