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Capital Grapevine  

Virendra Kapoor

Gandhis should cede total control of the party for it to grow and prosper

Rahul Gandhi’s presence at the swearing-in of Modi Sarkar 2.0 might indicate that he, after all, might abandon the idea of quitting as party chief to atone for the spectacular failure of his party in the recent election. Accompanied by his mother, Sonia Gandhi, they occupied the front row seats along with Manmohan Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad, agonizingly witnessing the grand spectacle of big winners of Mandate 2019 begin a fresh innings in power. The disdainful rejection by the people must have hurt the most when a triumphant Smriti Irani, who humiliated him in the family pocket-borough of Amethi, took oath as a Cabinet minister. She had duly earned her promotion.

Following that brief appearance, Rahul is said to have again made himself unavailable to party colleagues, keeping it in limbo whether he is sticking to or leaving the inherited post of party president. The resulting confusion and uncertainty has the higher echelons of the party in a great quandary. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his deputy Sachin Pilot waited for hours at the boss’s Tughlak Road house only to be told the boss wouldn’t meet them. Others like the Delhi Congress contingent of freshly-minted losers led by Shiela Dikshit, Lalit Maken and Arvinder Singh Lovely too returned empty-handed without getting the `darshan’ of the big chief.

Therefore, it is a valid question whether Rahul will allow himself to be persuaded to withdraw his resignation which he submitted to no-one in particular at the post-drubbing meeting of the Congress Working Committee. Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, it seems, was dispatched post-haste to prevent the chosen legatee of the family ~gaddi~ not to cause such a drastic catastrophe. It was hard for her to contemplate the consequences of such a foolish step which would deprive the family of the milch cow which had kept it in clover for decades.

Without any worthwhile alternative vocation, the ownership of the Congress affords a luxurious life-style for the extended Gandhi parivaar, including `businessman’ son-in-law Robert Vadra. They all will be stranded at the cross-roads of India’s history if they were to surrender the ownership of the family firm to outsiders, and forced to join the anonymous second and third generation of the former Congress biggies such as Lal Bahadur Shastri, Rajendra Prasad, K. Kamaraj, Morarji Desai, Narasimha Rao and a host of others --- all illustrious in their own right.

Meanwhile, it is instructive that Sitaram Kesri was physically ejected from the office of the Congress President when the party won a paltry 144 seats. His successor continued blithely when the party got but only 44 seats. She was special, you see. And, predictably, there was not a soul in the CWC to gasp under the breath that one word which is missing from the Congress lexicon: accountability. The craven, cringing sycophants who occupy the higher layers of the Congress, in turn, extend that principle of non-accountability to the state units. It, therefore, was rather surprising when Rahul rebuked P. Chidambaram, Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath, for ignoring the interests of the party while busy ensuring the victory of their respective sons.

Given that the commander-in-chief had himself fallen in his own bailiwick, abusing the perennial second-rankers for failure to boost party’s prospects was rather rich. The fact is that led by Rahul himself, everyone in the Congress has lost contact with the voters. The party wins what it still wins due to the lingering goodwill for an old brand and the individual efforts of local candidates or, mostly by hanging on to the coattails of a regional force such as DMK and an agglomeration of smaller parties, each with its own pocket of influence. Such as the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala whose generosity alone would ensure a place for the Congress President in the 17th Lok Sabha.

Rahul is far from being a mass leader despite nearly two decades after he was thrust into the always tricky political hothouse by a doting mother to grow the family business for the nth generation of the Nehru-Gandhis. It is the doting mother who, one learns, is dead set against Rahul quitting the party post, fearing that a non-Gandhi might not keep the chair warm for a member of the family when it is ready to claim its rightful place as the head of the family firm. Besides, she has her own case to back her entreaties to her foolish son, having made no effort to own up her role when the party was reduced to a mere 44 seats. With 52 seats under his belt, the son has, after all, grown the party by seven percent under his stewardship. Quitting, therefore, must be completely ruled out.

If he does not quit, and this may be the best course for the party if it were to survive without fragmenting further, what can Rahul do to check the Modi steamroller marching victoriously down the road to many more triumphs ahead? His reported pleadings for Sharad Pawar’s NCP to merge with the Congress might not be a bad idea, though as a fast shrinking force there is little that NCP can do to strengthen the Congress in the only State where NCP has some influence. Despite hiring the services of an-out-of-work Raj Thackeray, the Congress-NCP combine faced a rout in Maharashtra. If Mayawati and Akhilesh jugalbandi could do little to stop the Modi juggernaut in UP, it is doubtful if a Pawar-Rahul twosome would have accomplished anything. Both are counterfeit brands now. Besides, a Congress offshoot such as Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress would find it a sheer waste of time hooking up with a `national’ party like the Congress when off its own bat it can conquer Bengal. Mamata is too shrewd to lend a helping hand to the captain of a sinking ship.

Nonetheless, in the unlikely case the Gandhis are genuinely interested in reviving the Congress, if they still care for the party, that is, if they can bring themselves up to surrender the perks and prestige of owning India’s Grand Old Party, they would insist on Rahul’s resignation being accepted immediately. While following up on his resignation, he ought to ensure that the reins of the party are handed to a non-Gandhi chosen through consensus by Pradesh Congress chiefs and CWC members. Or, better still, at a specially convened AICC session with the single item on the agenda to elect someone outside the family to head it. And such a session should spare us the crocodile tears of a Mani Shankar Aiyar or a Renuka Chowdhry at the proposed `sacrifice’ by the 21st century Gandhi.

Neither in the selection of an outsider as the head of the party nor in its day-to-day running should the Gandhis interfere or influence, strictly following a hands-off approach. Maybe they can divert their mind from the loss of a priceless family heirloom by taking a long break from India and enjoy the hard work of decades accumulating wealth while they squandered the name of the great brand of India’s sole all-on-board vehicle for freeing it from the imperialist power. Gandhis vis-à-vis the Congress had, in a way, assumed an imperialist character, maintaining a vice-like grip over the party. They must go for the sake of the Congress itself. And as the only national party which can provide a genuine and constructive opposition to the ever growing political leviathan that is Modi’s BJP, the Congress must rescue itself from the clutches of the Gandhis. Will they or will they not do it? is the million-dollar question.