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Why Congress is in a big mess

By Aditi Phadnis
March 04, 2020 09:29 IST
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Who's calling the shots in the party, asks Aditi Phadnis.

IMAGE: Congress General Secretary Priyanka Vadra, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI
 

The management principle is: Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

It is not clear which of these Rahul Gandhi is doing.

And his indecision is harming India's principal Opposition party irreparably.

It is now more than six months since Sonia Gandhi became provisional president after the Congress's disastrous showing in the Lok Sabha election and Rahul's resignation as party supremo.

The organisation is yet to ratify Sonia's appointment (which, by the way, is unconstitutional, in that there is no position of 'provisional president/interim president' in the party's constitution).

The last plenary session of the Congress was held in Delhi in 2018.

Ordinarily plenary sessions are held once every three years.

But we are hearing that the timetable may be advanced -- because frankly, the Congress is in a big mess and by applying its collective mind, the party hopes to drag itself out of it.

Rahul Gandhi once said power is poison.

But he isn't giving it up either.

The plenary is being brought forward to orchestrate a 'Rahul Lao Desh Bachao' type of campaign so that he succumbs and once again becomes Congress president, a post occupied by his father, mother, grandmother, grandfather and great-grandfather.

All his relatives were strong-minded individuals who left their own mark on the Congress party and the direction it took.

But really, no one knows about Rahul.

Rahul Gandhi has had phases of obsessions about the way the Congress should look.

At first, it was all about internal democracy.

More of it. So the organisation was told that it must hold primaries where the people who get the most votes of party workers would be selected as party candidates in the next election, whenever it was held.

But that didn't really work.

Many of those who won the primaries were children of Congressmen.

As second or third generation Congressmen they enjoyed loyalty and extended patronage, so losing the primaries was like losing the family title.

And those who did win the party elections lost the real election.

So the project to make the Congress looks less like a Mother and Child party was put off.

Then there was the question of whom or what the party must stand up for.

Should it be Rahul? Or Sonia? Or now, Priyanka? And possibly in the future, Robert?

Should it be secularism? Socialism? A bit of both? Neither because a political counterpoint to Narendra Damodardas Modi can only be an individual, not an idea or issue?

There is complete confusion on this too.

Rahul says he's out of it all, but he's not really out of it: Persons handpicked by him are advisors to Priyanka.

His aides continue to have a say in crucial appointments.

But so do those who claim loyalty to Sonia. So party workers are confused: Who's calling the shots?

When Jairam Ramesh says an Opposition party must appreciate decisions taken by the government that it thinks are in public good (Ujjwala, for instance) M Veerappa Moily and Kapil Sibal contradict him immediately.

When Milind Deora praises the Aam Aadmi Party for its fiscal prudence, Ajay Maken catches him by the throat and tells him to leave the Congress.

Ditto for Sharmishtha Mukherjee who tells P Chidambaram it is inappropriate to 'gloat' over AAP's victory in defeating bluster and bullying.

All ordinary workers can do is watch helplessly, rather like spectators at a tennis match.

Some confess freely their necks are beginning to ache a bit!

The fact is, for the Congress, the family is the final court of appeal, the first among unequals.

If there is no family, all leaders are equal.

If all leaders are equal, anyone can lead the Congress.

So every time the family has stayed in the background, the Congress has split.

This then leads us to the somewhat unsettling conclusion that one of the most important political forces in the world's most populous democracy can only be run by one family.

And only that family has the power to divest itself of that responsibility -- which it does not seem to be inclined to do at present.

The BJP is debating almost silently whether it is time to ratchet up the game a notch ahead of 2024 and take it from a battle of individuals to a battle of ideas.

And the Congress is neither clear about individuals nor about ideas.

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Aditi Phadnis
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