Congress at crossroads again

Delhi Jul 12, 2020, 08.24 PM(IST) Written By: Kartikeya Sharma

Rahul Gandhi with Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. Photograph:( Twitter )

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Congress may save its government but humiliating Sachin Pilot will diminish it

Whatever be the fate of Congress government in Rajasthan, a massive blow has been delivered to the Congress leadership by Sachin Pilot. He has shown that central leadership does not count for anything in the Congress and demonstrated the weakness of the Interim Congress President.

Imagine that party’s top leadership was unable to speak to him through Sunday. After Jyotiraditya Scindhia, it will be the second big exit from the Congress if it happens.

Even in Maharashtra, a fait accompli was served to Sonia Gandhi whereby regional leadership went and formed the government with Shiv Sena and NCP.

Secondly, many leaders in the Congress are comparing an impending exit by Sachin Pilot and his marginalization to a purge in the party where they feel that Rahul Gandhi does not want some leaders in the organizational fold anymore. Many have silently conveyed that they are paying the price for suggesting a non-Gandhi name for the position of the President of the party after Rahul Gandhi’s exit.

Thirdly, 2019 Lok Sabha defeat did away with the old binary of old vs new in the Congress Party. After 2019 defeat, a new political architecture has evolved in the Congress. A section of the party is being run by Rahul Gandhi through organizational general secretary K C Venugopal and another by senior leader Ahmad Patel who by virtue of his political weight continues to exercise power in the organization. It is no more a fight between old and new, but between a Rahul Gandhi camp and others, and has young and old in both camps. For example, Sachin Pilot met Ahmad Patel but did not make himself available to the top leadership of the Congress, despite being once considered close to Rahul Gandhi, while Ashok Gehlot is now closer to Rahul Gandhi where he was once considered Ahmad Patel’s man.

Added to this melee is another set of people whom I call the “lost generation” who are loyal Congressmen but considered close to Ahmad Patel and could never reconfigure a relationship with Rahul Gandhi who always regarded them with a degree of suspicion. This “lost generation” is also one of the main reason behind the dissent as most of them joined Congress when Sonia Gandhi was taking over the party in 90s. Coming back to the point, 10 Janpath is confident that Rahul Gandhi would take over as the President of the Congress in August and would like leaders in sync with him, leaving others out in the cold.

In politics, however, wishes don’t turn into reality. If and when Rahul Gandhi takes over the Congress, he will, once again, inherit a party that is at loggerheads with the leadership. Deepinder Hooda’s Rajya Sabha seat is the best example where his father Bhupinder Hooda made sure of his son’s ticket to the Upper House despite opposition from the Gandhi family.

Sachin Pilot may or may not remain in the Congress, but his exit would send a message to leaders like RPN Singh, Milind Deora and Jitin Prasada, people who went on to become the young faces of UPA 2 between 2009-2014 that despite their age (or lack of it) if not firmly aligned with the Gandhi’s, they may have no space in the party.

Though some politicians like Ashok Tanwar have been compromised in the feud, the writing on the wall is clear that Rahul Gandhi will not let go of control and is being actively encouraged to intervene more openly. In the meeting held on Saturday with party MPs, Interim President Sonia Gandhi asked Rahul Gandhi to intervene a number of times when, barring a few, the rest of them praised him for a “successful” anti-government campaign. Rahul Gandhi politely refused to intervene almost all the times but the writing on the wall was clear and that being that this time Sonia Gandhi will not let allow any dissent on Rahul Gandhi.

Sachin Pilot is himself a dynast like Jyotiraditya Scindhia but his reinvention in 2014 made him get rid of the dynast tag. He reinvented himself and worked in Rajasthan where other people were sulking in Delhi. It is for this reason, he still enjoys sympathy.

Life within Congress can continue as normal even if Sachin Pilot leaves, but it will impact its image badly. In the 1970s and 80s, socialists were bitter adversaries of Indira Gandhi, but they could never keep their house in order. They also sealed the image in public that they could neither run a government efficiently nor be a cohesive political unit. In this case, the continuous exit of leaders for varying reasons can reinforce the image that Rahul Gandhi cannot run the Congress properly. Sometimes perceptions become a liability bigger than the actual weight of facts and Rahul Gandhi needs to be mindful of it. By 1990s, Indians junked socialists after romanticising them for 45 years and voted for BJP as an alternative to Congress. Rest is history.

Congress lost Lok Sabha elections under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. 2024 is far away. If he cannot put the house in order, then there will be nothing to fight against with and Congress will get reduced to another Swatantra Party or Jan Sangh which neither had a say nor the way in Lok Sabha till Indira Gandhi was alive.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)