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Capital Grapevine   

Virendra Kapoor

With Rahul AWOL, Congress Party thrown into confusion and disarray

A federal party with Congress as pivot way out of current crisis of credibility

At one level, it is highly irresponsible of Rahul Gandhi to throw his party in total disarray just when in the hour of its biggest defeat, it could do with some evidence of leadership. Grit and determination is needed to carry on in the face of severe adversity. There is nothing in the ‘naamdars’ record to suggest that he is oozing with what it takes to be a great leader.

Staying power is one ingredient that Rahul has lacked from the time he entered active politics. His long and unexplained absences from Parliament and party, his secret sojourns to foreign climes, leaving the courtiers clueless, his haphazard way of conducting the business of Congress presidency, etc., do not inspire confidence. The luxury of being a part-time politician or party president is just not available to him.

Yet, the Gandhi scion couldn’t care less. It is sheer arrogance to fly out of the country when his party is hard put to explain whether he is continuing or quitting as party chief. Randeep Surjewala might intone that ‘Rahul was, is, and will continue to be party president,’ but people want to hear from his boss. Doddering between resignation and continuation, Gandhi may have only convinced fickle-minded Congressmen to look for greener pastures elsewhere. And, boy, aren’t they leaving the sinking ship in droves. The exodus will only get worse should the captain abandon the ship mid-course following the catastrophic blow. Henceforth, Congressmen shall call Rahul a `leader’ at their own risk.

Meanwhile, the `leader’ is holed up in some exotic location abroad and his subjects are at each other’s throats. The oversized ambitions of that gadfly Navjot Singh Siddhu bloated further when the brother and sister duo granted him audience --- when they make themselves unavailable to senior leaders for months on end. It egged him on to needle Captain Amarinder Singh, probably the only Congress chief minister with grassroots support. Then, the unsettled question of leadership in Rajasthan sees Sachin Pilot snapping at the heels of Ashok Gehlot. The coalition in Karnataka lives on borrowed time, certain to fall sooner than later. But there is no sight of Rahul.

Anyway, having asked for a month to decide his next course of action, Rahul , hopefully, will be in a position to clarify things on June 23rd. It is a public secret that his mother and sister are dead set against his abdicating the family ‘gaddi’. But if he is man enough, and has come to the conclusion after due deliberation that the best course for the revival of the Congress lies in his stepping aside, he should press ahead and do the right thing by the party. Muddling along, as before, without any clear strategy, a new idea, a new leadership at the panchayat, district, state and central levels will only be met with further rejections. Specially when the Modi-Shah duo shows no sign of letting up.

Of all the ideas thrown up by its own well-wishers for saving the Congress from extinction, the one which seems most doable is to try and bring together all the offshoots of the party under one platform, one name, one flag and, possibly, one leader. If you recall, it was suggested that Rahul had met Sharad Pawar a day after the two parties were pulped by voters and, reportedly, talked unity with him. Nothing came of it. But the idea is worth pursuing. The mercurial Mamata is the only Congress leader of some worth to be able to win a state election on her own. Pawar is a spent force now, fast losing his grip on Maharashtra, the only State where he had enjoyed some relevance.

The fear of an aggressive and fast expanding BJP would incentivize Mamata as much, now that she is under siege in her own bailiwick by the saffron brigade, as it would Pawar in Maharashtra, Deve Gowda in Karnataka, Chandrababu Naidu ---- yes, he was once a Congressman---- in Andhra, and others depending on their standing with the voters in their respective States. Let us face it. Congress as a brand is virtually defunct. Unless it taps fresh value by absorbing smaller brands in various States it would soon become irrelevant.

Without dilating on differences and contradictions between various regional parties and the so-called national Congress Party, when survival is at stake such things ought to override all other concerns. For instance, what objection can a defeated and imprisoned Laloo Yadav have if he were to join a loose federal formation under the aegis of the Congress --- not only for fighting elections but for five years between the polls as well?

The point is that someone in the Congress Party has to steer it out of the present stalemate. The current state of suspension can only demoralize even those members who are brave, or foolish, enough to still stick around. Meanwhile, the Gandhis could draw a lesson from the history of business and political families, domestic or foreign. No-one is immortal. Consider the business houses which had ruled the roost in the early decades after Independence. They are all in decline, with some of the biggest names having vanished from public memory. The Gandhis as a political brand maybe dead as Dalda, the large-selling hydrogenated oil of Hindustan Lever but which it had to junk with the arrival of better cooking oils.

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Her Royal Highness

Those of you who had found Priyanka Gandhi Vadra charismatic might have got your answer when her brother was trounced by a commoner, Smriti Irani, in the family’s long-time pocket-borough of Amethi. But what takes the cake in sheer impudence is the public rebuke she administered to the few people who still call themselves Congress workers at a post-defeat meeting in Amethi. Addressing them as if a group of paid retainers, Her Imperial Highness rudely ticked off her subjects: “ We will find out the names of those workers who did not give their best. You shirked your duty. You did not work hard. We will not spare them.”

This royal `we’ in our democratic polity explains the wide chasm between the hereditary rulers of the Congress Party and the fast-depleting stock of party workers. ( Notice how even her husband, the very gifted businessman, Robert Vadra, tweets, oozing royalty.) Again, in Rai Bareili Priyanaka rubbed it in, insisting that her mother won on her own, not due to the efforts of the party workers. This was a slight no voluntary party worker should be ready to put up with, especially from someone who is a leader not because of her work at the grassroots level but due to the sheer accident of her birth in the ruling family.

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Loot by managers

Apropos the continuing mess in the Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd. Having jeopardized public funds to the tune over Rs.94,000 crores, the ex-bureaucrats and managers used IL&FS as a gravy train, living it up in style with even their drivers and cooks clearing lakh a month or thereabouts. But how about this? A non-executive chairman of a now defunct Noida Toll Bridge Company, a former IAS officer, had the full time use of a swanky new Mercedes with driver and unlimited petrol. And long after IL&FS had gone belly up, he continued to retain the car, the driver, the works. Small wonder IL&FS went phut. It was loot by its managers.