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Exclusive! Rahul to be told: Improve or get lost!

By A Rediff Correspondent
May 23, 2014 13:19 IST
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'According to a powerful section of the Congress party the vote was anti-Congress, anti-dynasty and pro-Modi, in that order.'

'Sonia is being accused, privately, of protecting her son at the cost of the party's interest.'

'For the first time ever, 24 Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters, is assessing the "intent" of the Gandhi Parivar, which has never happened before.'

A Rediff Correspondent lifts the veil off the churning within the Congress party in the wake of the party's rout in the election.

"Bhartiyata ki jeet hui hain (this is the victory of Bharatiyata)!"

This was the ruthlessly candid assessment by a Congress leader on the stupendous victory of Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Election 2014.

The senior leader has seen it all and done it all in what is called Congress culture. He and other Congress leaders shared with insights into Modi's victory that, obviously, even BJP leaders may not be able to replicate. The experience counts in the matter of political diagnosis.

Sonia Gandhi's ascension to power in the Congress in 1998 came amidst the issue of her foreign origin, the re-acceptance of dynastic politics by the party, sharpening of the Congress stand on secular issues that were sometimes taken to extremes, as it happened in the way the Sachar committee report on Muslims was handled, politically.

Sonia's politics veer around government policy to favour the poor and minorities to such an extent that Rahul Gandhi seriously started believing that the Direct Cash Transfer scheme was a game-changer that would get the Congress around 250 seats, reveals the Congress leader.

Justifiably, Rahul Gandhi is seen as the main culprit who has dispatched the Congress party to the graveyard. To rise again, Rahul will have to learn the ways of the Congress, the leader feels.

In view of the completely desi appeal of Modi's campaign some people now seriously question if there is a Western influence inside Rahul's office that recommends actions without knowing Indian realities.

A report (external link) in The Telegraph newspaper, published before the election results came in, rightly pointed out that there was a disconnect between Rahul's office and the Congress old guard.

When in 1997 Mamata Banerjee left the Congress to gain regional space and her autonomy from the party high command and when Sharad Pawar left Congress in 1999 on the issue of Sonia's foreign origin the Gandhis were never verbally attacked, but it seems things have now come full circle for the Congress.

The Gandhis, particularly Rahul, would like to use the rout in the 2014 election to clear the deadwood, vested interests and lobbyists who milk the Congress only for monetary gain.

Rahul would like to build up the party from scratch, but how can he clear the Congress liabilities when his own balance sheet shows a nil balance?

A fight has broken out between the two forces. Rahul and his team want to blame the old daddies and the UPA government's corruption for the party's shameful performance, while 24, Akbar Road's biggies want to point out that Rahul's politics lacks an 'Indian' touch and Modi has gained precisely because he understood the majority -- the Hindus.

The Congress defeat speaks clearly and loudly that the dynasty that won votes in 2004 and 2009 failed because of its arrogance. Their 'We are born to rule' attitude has been rejected in the era of Twitter and 24 hours news television channels that dissect and blast every little act by political leaders.

It is not surprising that Congress leaders now understand the deep effect and disastrous dynamics of the Gandhi family's decision to anoint Rahul Gandhi as its general going into electoral war. While the Italy-born party president Sonia Gandhi kept a low profile for the last 10 years, she went overboard to protect and launch her son in the party that obviously deserved better.

Certainly, among Priyanka, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, Sonia's image is not tainted, even now, among Congressmen. But now she is being accused, privately, of protecting her son at the cost of the party's interest.

There are many reasons behind Modi's rise to the highest position in the land. A powerful section of Congress leaders believes the vote was anti-Congress, anti-dynasty and pro-Modi, in that order. They say Modi won because he represented and completely played upon 'Bhartiyata'.

Many Congressmen forcefully argue that they have the wherewithal to fight the BJP any day, any time, but Modi resorted to 'Bhartiyata' and captured the imagination of the voters, besides doing many other things.

Precisely for this, Congressmen find huge problems with Rahul's 'Western-type' behaviour.

Modi's temple visits, his idiom, his oratory and his use of local phrases ensured that "he was not a stranger to the people." Even most voters who didn't understand Modi's language felt "he is one of us." Even after the election, Modi is monopolising "Indian-ness" in political events as he did during the campaign.

His Ganga aarti in Varanasi on May 17, the way he bowed down at the steps of Parliament on May 20 were actions that cannot be dubbed acts of fanatical Hindutva. It is Bhartiyata for Indian voters, says the Congress leader pained to see his party's downfall.

Congress and secular pundits kept debating BJP leader Amit Shah's Hindutva agenda, but Modi has arrived in New Delhi with the politics of Bhartiyata.

What does it mean for the Congress?

Rahul Gandhi will not be able to continue with the status quo if you hear the murmurs that have started within the party. Even though nobody has, as yet, rebelled openly to take on the dynasty nor has anyone produced an alternative, there are clear indications that the Congress, the oldest political party in the land, is set to force the dynasty to change after the Budget session of Parliament if it does not, readily, change to keep step with time.

The Congress does not do things in a hurry, but Rahul Gandhi will now have to adapt to the ways of the party to remain on top. With Modi at 7 Race Course Road, the Congress's top leadership can't look or behave 'Western' and ajeeb (strange) to Indian voters.

According to the exclusive insights that has, Rahul Gandhi is not likely to get away with his dismal performance of 44 Lok Sabha seats. It seems the grand old party will ensure that he changes his way and "takes the party" along with him.

After the Budget session of the new Lok Sabha, he is likely to be told: Improve or be banished.

For the first time ever, 24 Akbar Road, the party's headquarters, is assessing the neeyat (intent) of the Gandhi Parivar, which has never happened before. No journalist on the Congress beat has ever heard such words in the party against the Gandhis. That such expressions are emerging out of the Congress's internal churning, is a huge thing.

Not even after the Emergency and certainly not in P V Narasimha Rao's time was the Gandhis' neeyat under discussion.

The pitiful number 44 (of Lok Sabha seats) has provoked Congressmen no end.

Of course, no Congressman will speak on record, but now none other than Milind Deora, the son of a most loyal Congressmen (former Union petroleum minister Murli Deora), has spoken out against Rahul Gandhi's office.

It is not a light assault.

This is the way change creeps into the Congress. The first message has been delivered to Rahul Gandhi. In Congress politics it is also possible that dynasty loyalists may themselves start such a debate to "release the pressure" and control the dissent against the dynasty, but Rahul Gandhi is the party's target, for sure. Covertly and overtly.

Congressmen understand what Modi's arrival brings to New Delhi. The party is alerting Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi that even if they think they are born to rule and can continue with their snooty ways, then they will confront a reality check sooner than later.

Congressmen have no doubt that Rahul Gandhi's arrogance and ignorance have brought the Congress down to 44 seats. His office, under the influence of America-trained Indians, produced a political campaign that reflects anything but 'Bhartiyata.'

Sonia Gandhi is still respected among defeated partymen, but she is not in a strong enough position to encash her goodwill to keep pushing her son within the party that finds itself in an existential battle.

Even though the Lok Sabha results are just a week old, partymen whose DNA is made of Congress ideals are, expectedly, concerned and think the family must change.

For many decades the balance of power has kept changing between the party and the Nehru-Gandhi family.

All these years the Nehru-Gandhis delivered votes and the party in turn provided unflinching loyalty. It was a mutually beneficial deal.

But Rahul Gandhi's repeated failure is likely to change the Congress course.

Inside the party, a tsunami of anger has erupted. It does not reach the media because the Congress has been so completely demolished that its leaders have enough time to plan their rebellion.

In fact, not many senior Congress leaders are shocked by the result; many of them felt the party would get around 70 seats or below. Many Congressmen could see the failure of the government, Cabinet ministers and Rahul Gandhi in every which way. It is unlikely that Sonia Gandhi was unaware of the pending disaster either.

Congress leaders dubbed Modi as a leader who polarises the country, but his victory shows that a lot of Modi's symbolism, which was dubbed as 'communal Hindutva', has been accepted by millions of voters as 'Bhartiyata'. Even if this is deception of the highest order, it has worked for the BJP.

When Mani Shankar Aiyar insulted Modi at the January session of the All India Congress Committee and said at the most he could open a tea stall at the venue, just a few hours later Rahul Gandhi cheered Aiyar for his role in creating the Panchayati Raj Act. No politician can get more arrogant than this.

When in Snoopgate the girl the Modi government allegedly spied on was reluctant to make it an issue and when her father came out declaring total support for Modi, Rahul Gandhi did not have a clue that the issue was not politically viable anymore.

When Modi touches the dharti (ground) of Parliament he does not look strange. Even a Congress leader feels, "He doesn't look ajooba (strange)." But Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka do -- that is the brutal assessment that has dawned on Congressmen, a bit late in the day.

However, the current situation does not give Congressmen the halo of victim. Till it suited them, they allowed the Gandhis to enjoy imperial status and now, when Modi has made the dynasty look villainous in the Indian democratic set-up, Congressmen feel desperate.

Many Congressmen, furious with Rahul Gandhi and his ways of things, add that since they won the 2009 mandate there is no enthusiasm in the country. The way a euphoria has accompanied Modi's triumph, no such hysteria enveloped Manmohan Singh then, they say. A more serious setback was the way many ministers lost their credibility.

From P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal to Jairam Ramesh, these leaders turned into hate figures. On social media they were hooted, while within the country they didn't get heartfelt respect even for the first few months. The image percolated down that some ministers were looting the country. This impression could never be countered, and things got worse after Modi embarked on his whirlwind campaign.

It is untrue that the Congress did not spend money on its election campaign. Any party that has been in power for 10 years would have money. Modi obviously spent a massive amount of money, but that alone cannot make one a prime minister, Congressmen now argue.

So, what next?

Will the dynasty remain at the centre of the Congress?

If the Congress thinks that "Bhartiyata ki jeet hui hain", then it is obvious that the party will take the reins in its hands to see how things go with the Gandhis and how much is their flexibility to accommodate the Congress need to understand a majority of Indians.

Also, without an acknowledgement of Indian-ness that has been more the Congress trademark than any other party's, the Congress knows there is no scope of revival.

After being reduced to 44 seats, don't think Congressmen can afford to remain loyal slaves to the dynasty.

Photograph: Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi pay tribute to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on his 23rd death anniversary at Vir Bhumi in New Delhi on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo.

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A Rediff Correspondent in New Delhi