Since two weeks now, A K Antony has been meeting Congress leaders across India to pinpoint reasons behind the party’s abysmal performance in Lok Sabha elections.
His report, due to be submitted to party chief Sonia Gandhi on July 6, could spring a surprise for Rahul Gandhi and his team
Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal reports
Still to recover from the party’s shock defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the Congress is currently in wait and watch mode.
The Congress rank and file is anxiously awaiting the A K Antony committee to give its report as the expected revamp of the party organization is contingent on the panel’s recommendations.
The committee is slated to submit its report on July 6.
The panel, headed by former defence minister A K Antony, was set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi nearly two weeks ago following growing resentment in the party that the leadership had not undertaken any introspection after the election results and made no effort to put its house in order.
“The rank and file has been feeling demoralised as it felt the party was not taking the necessary steps to gear up for the battle ahead. The party is now waiting anxiously for the Antony committee report as the subsequent changes in the organisation are expected to be based on its suggestions,” a senior Congress leader told rediff.com.
Besides undertaking an organisational reshuffle, Congress cadres have been told that the party will also hold a chintan shivir or brainstorming session to address larger issues like reconnecting with the grassroots workers, reviving its support base and attracting fresh social groups to the party following the submission of the Antony panel report.
The party has been given to believe that unlike the reports submitted by similar Antony-headed committees in the past, the leadership will act on the recommendations of the latest proposals.
Antony and other committee members have held a series of lengthy interactions with state leaders in batches over the past two weeks to get their honest feedback about the reasons for the defeat and their suggestions for the future.
The anger and frustration in the party, which has been voiced publicly by several Congress leaders over the past few weeks, also came through in the course of the interactions conducted by the Antony committee.
Party members who have met the panel members are said to have spoken out frankly about the problems in their respective states.
In one such meeting, Antony himself faced flak when the Delhi delegation pointed out that the senior leader was equally to blame for the party’s drubbing as the group of ministers headed by him failed to take any action on the Shunglu committee report on the Commonwealth Games scam. This had strengthened the public perception that the Congress was not serious about combating corruption, they felt.
While going into the reasons for the party’s electoral rout, Congress members criticised Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi indirectly by pointing out that the Nehru-Gandhi scion should be more accessible to party cadres.
However, they have admitted in private conversations that Rahul had failed to make a mark so far and that he did not have the requisite qualities to lead the party.
They also commented adversely on the role of his core team and suggested that they ought to be shunted out.
In case this was not possible, it would be better if they are given backroom jobs where they are not required to meet party cadres, it was pointed out.
Members of Rahul’s team who are being targeted include former minister Jairam Ramesh, AICC general secretaries Madhusudan Mistry, C P Joshi and Mohan Prakash, Rahul’s key advisor Mohan Gopal and former MP Jitendra Singh.
The anger against Rahul’s proteges was demonstrated recently when Ramesh and Mistry were, in separate incidents, openly attacked during internal party meetings.
Factionalism in state units also came to the fore when the Maharashtra delegation pressed the Antony panel to replace chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, stating that like the recent Lok Sabha polls, the Congress would be decimated in the coming assembly polls if there was no leadership change.
A similar plea was made by Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s detractors.
With no end to the frustration and anger in the party, Sonia has taken it upon herself to step up her engagement with party cadres in the weeks following the election results.
Although Rahul remains a key player in the party, Sonia has become more proactive in view of the growing demand that she should take charge of party affairs.
“Earlier when we met her, she would always tell us: ‘why don’t you discuss this with Rahul?’ Of late, however, she has refrained from saying as much. Instead, she gives everybody a patient hearing,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
Congress leaders said it is imperative for Sonia to lead from the front at this stage as an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party is out to decimate the grand old party, which has already been reduced to a mere 44 members in the Lok Sabha.
Pointing to the recent court summons issued to Sonia and Rahul in the National Herald case, party insiders said the rival game plan is to target and discredit the Gandhi family.
“The BJP is well aware that the Congress will crumble if the Gandhi family is weakened,” a Congress leader told rediff.com.