India: Congress divided between blaming Rahul or Sheila after she calls him 'immature'

Rahul Gandhi is the vice president of the Congress. His mother Sonia continues to be president of India's 'grand old party'. Photograph:( AFP )

DNA New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 25, 2017, 05.37 AM (IST) Iftikhar Gilani

By Iftikhar Gilani

India's oldest party the Congress is split between baying for former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit's blood after she was reported to have called Rahul Gandhi "immature" or blaming Gandhi himself for taking so long to take over the party.    

Rahul is the vice president of the Congress party, while his mother Sonia holds the post of president. 

Sheila Dikshit meanwhile has said that she was misquoted by the media. 

Feeling jittery about the BJP victory in Maharashtra civic body elections on Thursday despite demonetisation-induced hardships, Congress strategists are also mulling the need to change the party's campaign strategy in the ongoing Uttar Pradesh elections.   

The party leaders feel that an over-emphasis on demonetisation has only worked in favour of the BJP, which may use it in the remaining three phases of the Assembly polls, pitting the poor against the rich.

A senior party leader also wondered that after the Congress Working Committee adopted a resolution last year asking Rahul to take over as president, why then was he shirking the responsibility

In a couple of tweets with hashtag #DontTwistMyWords, Dikshit on Friday afternoon went into damage-control mode saying the Congress vice-president has the "sensitivity" and "concern of a mature leader". But not before it was used to the hilt by BJP president Amit Shah, who at a rally in Azamgarh said the entire nation agreed with Dikshit's 'fact', and wondered why he was 'forced into' the state by the Congress? "Sheila ji, the whole country acknowledges the fact which you stated, that Rahul is immature, but I want to ask why are you enforcing him in Uttar Pradesh."

Earlier, a former minister in Maharashtra, Nitin Raut, in an open letter, blamed the Congress leaders for debacle in Maharashtra civic polls. "The biggest opponents for the party were not the BJP or Shiv Sena, but an unscrupulous Congress leader. A complete washout of the party pains a hardcore Congressman in me, but what shames me is that this was done on purpose," he said.

Raut said that with the BJP and the Sena at loggerheads and raising the pitch against each other, any experienced Congress leader could have inspired his party to put up a strong show. "The results put a big question mark on the leadership in the state and its capability to prepare the party for the big test in 2019. It is of utmost importance to show party cadre and supporters that there is still hope, something which can happen only if we put people who can take party rank and file along at the top," he wrote.

Dikshit's detractors in the party cited her past remarks as well. She was quoted in interview as saying that Rahul was "still not mature and should be given (more) time".

The statement came at the worst time as the party is engaged in a neck-to-neck fight in UP. It also gave ammunition to the BJP, which spares no chance of attacking Rahul. This even forced the party to cancel its daily briefing on Friday, as no leader had idea, how to tackle Dikshit comments.

But some leaders at the party headquarters were blaming Rahul himself. "The decision to make him president is taking too long. The complete surgery needs to happen soon. We are still debating whether he is capable to take over or not. I fear time has already run out. BJP has begun preparing for the next Lok Sabha elections and here we are still trying to deal with the last one," said a party office-bearer.

A senior party leader also wondered that after the Congress Working Committee (CWC) adopted a resolution last year asking Rahul to take over as president, why then was he shirking the responsibility. Unofficially, party president Sonia Gandhi has more or less withdrawn and sends all the files to Rahul for clearance. In case of Mumbai also, leaders were shocked why Rahul didn't crack the whip despite open fight between Sanjay Nirupam and Gurudas Kamath.

(A version of this report first appeared in DNA)