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Rediff.com  » News » 'The Gandhis have swallowed their pride for now and deflected the attention to Kharge'

'The Gandhis have swallowed their pride for now and deflected the attention to Kharge'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
Last updated on: October 21, 2022 10:37 IST
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'Gehlot is right now doing things, which are not appreciated by the Gandhis.'
'The Gandhis have realised that their writ does not run in Rajasthan, therefore they have deflected the issue to Kharge.'

IMAGE: Newly elected Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, left, with Ashok Gelhot, centre, who refused to contest the party presidential election and preferred to stay on as Rajasthan chief minister. Photograph: Amit Sharma/ANI Photo

After 24 years the Congress has a president who is not from the Nehru family.

80-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge convincingly defeated his opponent Shashi Tharoor, in the party presidential election. Kharge received 7,897 of the 9,385 votes while Tharoor received 1,072 votes.

Kharge will replace interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi who has been occupying the post since her son Rahul Gandhi stepped down after the party's debacle in the 2019 general election.

So what are the challenges that await Kharge? Will he be reduced to being just a rubber stamp party chief with the real power being wielded by Sonia-Rahul-Priyanka Gandhi?

Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com spoke to Rasheed Kidwai, the veteran Congress watcher and author of 24 Akbar Road and Sonia-A Biography, to find out. The first of a two-part interview:

 

Everyone was saying it was just a formality for Mr Kharge to win the Congress presidential election. Why did the election become a formality?

There are six instances of Congress presidential elections -- in 1939, 1950, 1977, 1997, 1999 and now in 2022.

If you see, the fight was (always) between the leadership and rebel or dissident if you may call them that.

The only exception was in 1977 where the contest was between Kasu Brahmananda Reddy and Siddhartha Shankar Ray in which the All India Congress Committee voted for the president. At that time Indira Gandhi was out of the scene (the then prime minister was voted out in the March 1977 Lok Sabha election and was in political Siberia that year).

After Reddy (won), he removed Indira Gandhi due to which she formed the breakaway group of the Congress which became the official Congress party later.

In that context, this election is unprecedented as the leadership is not in the fray and yet an impression has been created amply that the party leadership -- the Gandhis -- were in favour of Kharge because of the manner in which his candidature was announced at the very last moment.

We must also remember that in a political party there is no model code of conduct as it exists in general elections or assembly elections where the Election Commission is the observer.

Also, in party elections there is nobody to enforce discipline.

How did Kharge come into the picture from nowhere?

After Ashok Gehlot refused to contest or resign (as Rajasthan chief minister), he appealed to Kharge to become the party president which was clearly a violation of norms.

Madhusudan Mistry, who was the chairman of the Congress central election authority, had made it clear that no Congress office-bearer will take sides in this election, but still Gehlot did just that. He went public with his statements.

This was a clear violation, but nobody went to discipline Gehlot. After which it was felt that Kharge was the official candidate of the party (on behalf of the Gandhis).

IMAGE: Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, left, with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav at Mulayam Singh Yadav's funeral at his ancestral village Saifai in Etawah, October 11, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Weren't the Gandhis upset with Gehlot for his rebellion? Or was there a bigger game plan where the Gandhis themselves told Gehlot to announce Kharge's name?

When it comes to the Gandhis we tend to judge them in an exaggerated manner; be it for their political acumen or their ability to lead the party.

The Gandhis are living as if everything is normal (for the Congress party). What happened in Rajasthan was a 'Shah Alam' moment for Sonia Gandhi.

Shah Alam (1760-1806) was one of the last kings of the Mughal empire in whose reign there was a Persian saying: 'The rule of Shah Alam extended from Delhi to Palam (an area within Delhi).'

The Gandhis earlier had great party managers like Ahmed Patel, M L Fotedar and R K Dhawan. These people used to execute and deliver meticulously what the leadership wanted.

In their absence, there is no manager for the Gandhis in the Congress.

So, when it was told to Ashok Gehlot that he would have to contest the Congress president's election he agreed thinking that he would continue to be the chief minister of Rajasthan at the same time.

The Gandhis assumed that Gehlot was being elevated to the post, but when it came to the crunch Gehlot played a monkey trick and refused to quit as chief minister.

This was in one sense defiance of the leadership's orders. He proposed Kharge's name on his own rather than as an official nominee when others were planning to contest, like Digvijaya Singh etc.

When Mulayam Singh Yadav died, Sonia Gandhi requested Kamal Nath and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel to represent the party, but then Gehlot again went on his own.

He is right now doing things on his own which are not appreciated by the Gandhis.

The Gandhis at this moment, are looking very weak.

Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai said the high command has become low command because they do not have the authority to punish.

They have realised that their writ does not run in Rajasthan, therefore they have deflected the issue to new president Kharge.

They do not want to go with the stigma that because of them Rajasthan faced political instability and perhaps even the fall of the government.

Instead of exercising their authority they have swallowed their pride for now and deflected the attention to Kharge.

IMAGE: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, second from right, waits in a queue to cast his vote in the party's presidential election at a voting booth erected during the Bharat Jodo Yatra at Sanganakal in Ballari, Karnataka, October 17, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

But 80-year-old Mr Kharge is nowhere a match for the eloquent and charming Shashi Tharoor, isn't it? Is Mr Kharge not a bad choice for the Congress party?

We have to understand the fundamentals of Indian political parties in which inner political democracy is largely a misnomer.

There are political people who represent the political leadership and their success or failure is judged by that.

The Gandhis are one, for example.

Right now, Rahul Gandhi is doing Bharat Jodo Yatra and soon we will have elections in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.

If the Congress wins these states, then the credit will go to Rahul Gandhi. Kharge will not get credit for that victory.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not been the BJP president even for a day, but he represents the political leadership of the BJP.

Jaganmohan Reddy, M K Stalin, Naveen Patnaik are all dynasts, but they are not seen as dynasts as they are winning. On the contrary, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav are considered dynasts because they are losing elections.

The dynast tag is for those who have failed and faltered.

There was a proposal to make Jaganmohan Reddy life-long president of the YSR Congress party, but these things do not come under media scrutiny because he is winning elections and there is no outrage too.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
 
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