After 75 days of dithering, the Congress Working Committee is scheduled to meet on August 10th to work out modalities of electing or selecting a successor to Rahul Gandhi, who resigned as party chief on May 25. Since Rahul expressed himself against any Gandhi family member holding the top post, efforts are on to find a non-family replacement. The CWC, the highest decision-making body of the party, may have to weigh three factors: should the new president be democratically elected or nominated, should the mantle go to a young or seasoned veteran, and should Priyanka Gandhi be persuaded to contest the election. Though there is no consensus on any particular name, Mallikarjun Kharge is the front-runner as of now.
While some commentators hold Gandhi “dynasty” responsible for all the ills of Congress, others claim that the focused media campaign against the dynasty is part of a BJP strategy to psyche out Congressmen. The family is the only glue that is binding the ideologically incongruent conglomeration. Once the family is eased out, they fear, the party may split into various factions and fade away.
Even after two successive humiliating defeats in 2014 and 2019, Congressmen have learnt no lessons. In several states they expend much of their time and energy fighting each other than BJP. It is clear that they don’t give two hoots about party interests. In Punjab it is Capt. Amarinder Singh vs Navjot Sidhu, Rajasthan - Sachin Pilot vs Ashok Gehlot, Madhya Pradesh - Jyotiraditya Scindia vs Kamal Nath, Haryana - Bhupinder Hooda vs Ashok Tanwar, Maharashtra - Ashok Chavan vs others vs Sanjay Nirupam vs Milind Deora, and in Jharkhand almost all senior leaders have ganged up against the Pradesh Congress Committee chief who has been a miserable failure, while in Karnataka camp followers of Siddaramaiah and original Congressmen have been at war. The same story plays in other states as well.
If the Gandhi family has failed to deliver—so have the old guards and young turks. Veteran Digvijay Singh, a two term CM, could not save his own seat. Ashok Gehlot promised to deliver a good number of the 25 LS seats but the party drew zero for the second consecutive election. Sachin Pilot too failed in Rajasthan, same is the case with Kamal Nath and Scindia in Madhya Pradesh where the party won just one seat. Milind Deora could not win his own seat in 2014 and 2019. Other so called young turks also failed to deliver in their own states, showing neither political maturity nor sagacity in adversarial times.
Rahul Gandhi, on his part, handpicked several useless office-bearers including PCC presidents and general secretaries without a lot of thought, compounding the crisis. It is a collective failure. So, what is the logic in singling out the Gandhi family for the poll debacle?
Regardless of the outcome of the CWC deliberations, the party finds itself having to choose between the devil and deep sea, organizationally and politically. It would be extremely difficult to find a suitable president from among the available, shrunken talent pool. There is not a single political animal in the party today who can think out of the box in the current “new normal’ milieu, drastically overhaul the organization and challenge Modi-Shah hegemony.
Some analysts argue that the family should step aside as it failed to bring the party to power two consecutive terms. That’s a reaction borne more out of a loathing for the Gandhis (especially after they lost power) than any sound political reasoning. It is a fact that the Congress fought its toughest electoral battle without a level playing field; still secured 12.13 crore votes and Rahul Gandhi received the second largest votes after Modi. Hypothetically speaking, what if the media and Election Commission had acted more professionally, corporate houses were more accommodating and the Congress had matching resources? The election results may not have been that devastating and Rahul would have been spared of some humiliation. It has now become routine that whenever the Congress suffers electoral routs, the dynasty blames the leaders and dynasty bashers blame the family. None of this serves the interests of the party.
Perhaps a way out would be to form a politburo (on the lines of CPM) that can guide and help the president in taking decisions and formulating appropriate strategies. The politburo can apply checks and balances and neutralise criticism of undue family influence over the party. In the CPM, the 17-member politburo is the highest body that runs and reviews day-to-day affairs and takes crucial decisions while the 90-odd member Central Committee is the highest policy making body. The CWC members are nominated whereas the politburo members represented by various states and regions can be elected by the AICC and helmed by the general secretary. While CWC has over the years become a rubber stamp of the president and meets infrequently, the politburo should meet at regular intervals; the members can freely express their views, fight and argue before taking a stand on any issue.
Over the years, the Congress leadership has mastered the art of putting “old wine in a new bottle” in the name of organizational restructuring and so it is no wonder the party has reached a dead end now. Chicago-based technocrat Sam Pitroda, who has been advising Rahul last few years, has reportedly submitted a blueprint to revamp the party. However, hard-nosed Congressmen are skeptical about Pitroda’s political acumen.
Some leaders are of the view that AICC should elect an interim president for one or two years and keep the seat warm for Priyanka Gandhi who would take over the reins by 2022 to become the party’s face ahead of the 2024 general elections. While electing the new president the party should keep in mind BJP’s indomitable leadership profile. Who will be Congress’ face vis-à-vis Modi-Shah duopoly in 2024? The younger lot are a disappointment, seniors are fatigued and have run out of ideas. The million dollar question: who will bell the cat?
The writer is an independent journalist.
- Kay Benedict