Trouble for the Congress high command?

The Gandhis have not only been misled and ill-advised, but have been left vulnerable, frail and frangible like never before, practically living a paradox

Neelu VyasUpdated: Saturday, October 01, 2022, 01:04 PM IST
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Number 10 Janpath, the New Delhi power centre of the Congress triumvirate Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, has faced many embarrassments in recent times but of late Rajasthan came as the worst of all. This earthquake of sorts was engineered by their loyalist number one — Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, who proved that a strong state leadership can challenge the party high command. More than 100 MLAs from the Gehlot camp raised their voices in unison just because the high command wanted to impose Sachin Pilot as the CM of the desert state.

While Gehlot's lieutenants, Shantilal Dhariwal, Mahesh Joshi and Rathore have been served show cause notices, the principal conspirator Ashok Gehlot has been given a clean chit, which shows that the Congress high command dare not touch him. Ashok Gehlot after meeting Sonia Gandhi publicly said sorry but this was a masterstroke to save his turf and establish his supremacy as the tallest Congress leader in the cow belt. What many would perceive as an ignominious climbdown is actually an unprecedented challenge mounted by Gehlot against the high command. Why else would he resign from his political base and hand over the turf to his rival Sachin Pilot only to become the party president, a post which would not have the old glamour as long as the Gandhis hold the remote control? It would have been political suicide by Gehlot. Therefore in the eyes of his MLAs Gehlot has proven his mettle yet again.

The Rajasthan CM will now need to save his generals — Shanti Kumar Dhariwal, Mahesh Joshi and Dharmendra Rathore — but the legacy of revolt, rebellion and challenge to the highest authority left behind by Gehlot will become a template for other regional satraps specially in Chattisgarh and Karnataka which are slated to go to the polls by next year. Siddharamaiah vs DK Shivkumar, Bhupesh Baghel vs TS Singh Deo are tsunamis in the poll-bound states waiting to rear their heads before the high command.

The Gandhis have not only been misled and ill-advised, but have been left vulnerable, frail and frangible like never before, practically living a paradox. With Rahul Gandhi away from the power structure of the party, saying that he will not take up the post of the party president, questions are raised over whether at all he has the moral right to impose his choices, like the ‘one man one post’ formula, on regional leaders like Ashok Gehlot without knowing the will of the MLAs. How will the Gandhis keep a tight leash and control over state leaders who have a massive support base? Having no option but to depend on the new Congress president, the Gandhis have tried to play with fire; they could get singed or they could rise like a phoenix from the embers — it all depends how loyal the new president will be. Will he be able to establish a connect with state leaders without undermining the authority of 10 Janpath? The Gandhis have realised that in terms of perception, in terms of the hold over the party, with many loyalists having deserted them, they are at a crossroads. Gehlot after his meeting with Sonia Gandhi came out to give a sound bite saying, “I am hurt with whatever happened recently and I failed to get the one-line resolution passed.” This was not just a statement but a process pre-organised to restore the supremacy of the high command. The latest nominee in the party president’s race is the 80-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge, a staunch loyalist, reflecting the Gandhis’ attempt to reinforce and reestablish their command centre. The party president election is not only an experiment but will also be the biggest power test of the Gandhis. Kharge has the potential to unite the warring factions yet maintain the unwavering connection with the Gandhis, so if again the party is heading towards a dual power structure, the Gandhis are still at risk of facing revolts and rebellions at the hands of powerful state leaders. Time will tell whether the Gandhis remain the abiding glue that holds the Congress together.

The writer is a senior television anchor and consulting editor with Satya Hindi

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