If indeed the Congress cannot look beyond its first family, then it should persuade Priyanka Vadra to step in
The drama over who will be the Congress party’s full-time president continues to play on, and the audience is as clueless as it was six months ago, on when the saga will end. Even the participants in the stage show are not aware, and so they have begun offering their own versions and expressing hopes of an early curtains-down. Meanwhile, the country’s oldest party continues to stagger with one debacle after others. Interim chief Sonia Gandhi holds on to the reins out of compulsion. Rahul Gandhi, her chosen one, abdicated after the party’s drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Various names as replacement are in circulation but none has come forward to bell the cat.
Is the selection of a Congress president that difficult a task? Are members of the Nehru-Gandhi family so indispensable that without them at the helm, the party goes adrift? In the party’s long history, presidents have been ousted or compelled to quit and an alternative was quickly put in place. Why has the replacement issue become such as a bottleneck today? it’s been a good six months since Rahul Gandhi resigned as the Congress chief, and yet the best that the party could do was to persuade Sonia Gandhi — who had handed over the reins to her son — to get back into the position until such time as it found a more permanent replacement.
Rahul Gandhi has on more than one occasion, demonstrated that he is unsuited to lead the party.
If indeed the Congress cannot look beyond its first family, then it should persuade Priyanka Vadra to step in. It’s true that Rahul Gandhi had said that no member of his family will be president, but words are not cast in stone. Moreover, she has greater charisma than he has, and the very least can revitalise the Congress. Whether she can change the electoral fortunes of the party, would remain to be seen. But at least the Congress would not continue to be rudderless.
Various prominent Congress leaders have been speaking out on the issue. They are all concerned over the drift and the sustained loss of ground. Some of them have the ability to lead the party. The issue is, even if one of them becomes the president, will he (or she) be allowed to independently function without the family’s interference? After all, if the first family could control no less than the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) by remote, it would be an easy task for it to manipulate the party chief. But for that it must have somebody malleable in place. Finding a person with such a desirable quality is perhaps what is delaying the appointment.
History bears out that independent Congress party chiefs have not lasted long. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had to quit the post in 1939 after differences with the senior Congress leader, and Mahatma Gandhi, although he won re-election as president. Gandhi had taken his re–election as a personal defeat, and the senior Congress leadership including Jawaharlal Nehru quickly fell in line, making Bose’s position untenable.
When it came to selecting the first Congress president of independent India, the party’s rank and file wanted PD Tandon, who was also backed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. However, Nehru was not in favour, once referring to Tandon as a “bearded, venerable orthodox Hindu” — as if that was a negative. Despite Nehru, Tandon won the election rather easily in 1950. Nehru was upset and according to records, threatened to resign, claiming that the “spirit of communalism and revivalism have gradually invaded the Congress”. Nine months later, with Sardar Patel dead, Tandon resigned because of his differences with Nehru.
Of course, the most celebrated case of the ouster of a Congress president is that of Sitaram Kesri. The poor man did not even see it coming. His fault was that he had tried to create his own support base within the party, and this was seen as an affront to Sonia Gandhi. It was the time when senior party leaders were coaxing Sonia Gandhi to step into active politics. Once the green signal was received, the cabal around her swung into action. an obscure clause in the party’s constitution was invoked and Kesri was thrown out of the post; Sonia Gandhi stepped in party president thereafter.
There was much drama throughout the incident, as it had been decided to humiliate Kesri fully before sacking him. When he arrived at the party meeting, Pranab Mukherjee read out a statement that thanked Kesri for his services. Earlier, in another meeting of which Kesri had no knowledge, the Congress had decided on his sacking and his replacement by Sonia Gandhi. A humiliated and infuriated Kesri walked out of the meeting, and into oblivion.
Returning to the present, Rahul Gandhi has on more than one occasion, demonstrated that he is unsuited to lead the party. Barring a few electoral wins, he has had is nothing to show. And yet, if leaders even now hope that he will once more assume the mantle, they do so for the record only. After all, they cannot be seen to be publicly writing him off. What is worse is that Rahul Gandhi has not learned any lesson. He continues to indulge in immature talk and raise issues that are irrelevant or have been settled. His connect with the masses is no longer there — that he lost his stronghold of Amethi is one indication of that lost touch.
None but the Congress leaders can save the party. But none is willing to get into the tiger’s den.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.