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Dreaming Of The Phoenix

As Rahul makes his intentions a bit clearer, a new alignment of forces takes shape in the party

Dreaming Of The Phoenix
Tribhuvan Tiwari
Dreaming Of The Phoenix
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

Old-Timers Now With Rahul

  • Digvijay Singh: Acting as the link person between the old guard and Team Rahul.
  • Ghulam Nabi Azad: LoP, Rajya Sabha, is close to Sonia but comfortable with Rahul too
  • Veerappa Moily: Former petroleum minister has his son-in-law embedded in Team Rahul
  • Anand Sharma: Family loyalist
  • Kamal Nath: One of the first to back Rahul
  • Ahmed Patel: Adjusting to transition
  • Jairam Ramesh: Part of Rahul set-up

Out-Of-Sync With Rahul

  • Janardhan Diwedi: Not trusted in both camps
  • Captain Amarinder Singh: Had signalled a rebellion but is being persuaded.
  • Shiela Dishit and son Sundeep: Have openly criticised Rahul and his way of functioning
  • Manish Tewari: Relatively young but not in with Rahul crowd
  • Kishore Chandra Deo: Seasoned parliamentarian vocal against the family.
  • H.R. Bharadwaj: Wants Priyanka to lead

Key Players In Rahul Circle

  • Madhusudan Mistry: Former trade unionist, influences Rahul’s thinking
  • K. Raju: Ex-bureaucrat, now convenor of Congress SC-ST cell, thinks Cong must stop AAP from occupying a certain ideological space
  • Ajay Maken: Is quite close to Rahul despite the bad show in the Delhi elections
  • Randeep Surjewala: Now heads communication cell of AICC

***

There’s no question that Rahul Gandhi will become the next president of the Congress party. The turmoil that had hit the nation’s oldest party during the two months after its disastrous showing in the Delhi elections—following which Rahul vanished to an undisclosed location—continues. But in the ebb and flow of events, there now seems to be some more clarity about what lies in the future. The unusually energised Rahul who has returned has left no one in doubt that he intends to take over the party. What’s more, his mother Sonia Gandhi, the party president, has sent the necessary signals to the old guard. The process of  Rahul becoming Congress president now requires the formality of a plenary session of the AICC. Well-placed sources say that a three-day session would be scheduled some time in September-October. Sonia, as outgoing president, will play the role of mentor.

But to get to this point, Rahul has had to fight battles within the family and the party. Says a leader close to the Gandhi family: “There is no doubt that there was some disagreement with Soniaji about phasing out some of the old guard.  She was trying to protect the people who have served her well. But eventually she is Rahul’s mother, and it is she who pushed him into politics.” So Rahul, it seems, had to disappear and meditate in order to return to conquer.

Are radical changes afoot? Not really, for the more things change, the more they remain the same. So it is actually a veteran, Digvijay Singh, who is playing the most significant role in facilitating the changeover. Inner-party rivalries in the Congress have always hinged on who gets to be the gatekeeper to the family. Right now, it’s Digvijay.

Meanwhile, many smooth old-timers like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath, both former Union ministers and senior strategists at election time, have seen the writing on the wall and have already made the transition to speaking up strongly for Rahul. They are likely to remain relevant in any future plans in the party. Azad is the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, a constitutional post; and Kamal Nath, a nine-term MP, is pro-tem Speaker. Azad had aspired to be LoP in the Lok Sabha, but the post was not given to the Congress after its disastrous showing in the 2014 elections. (Mallikarjun Kharge functions like an LoP without the constitutional perks of that office.)

In Punjab, Amarinder has been threatening to form a new party. But the high command is likely to mollify him.

What remains of the old Congress, therefore, hopes to survive, if not thrive, in the age of Rahul. But there have been some casualties,  most noticeably that of Janardhan Dwivedi, who was the general secretary in charge of media during much of the second term of ex-prime minister Manmohan Singh. His dislike for Digvijay Singh was well known and it was referred to as the Brahmin-Thakur Punch-and-Judy show. Dwivedi would make a statement, Digvijay would land the next day and make a counter-statement. There has also been  speculation about Ahmed Patel, who was  the most powerful man in the party during the 10 years of UPA rule. He will not be so in the age of Rahul, but there is no question of him playing saboteur. He will go along with what Sonia wants.

What is of greater consequence from the point of mass politics is the irritation of former Punjab chief minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, against state party chief P.S. Bajwa, who was handpicked by Rahul. Assembly elections in Punjab take place in 2017 and Amarinder has told his supporters he is considering forming a regional party on the lines of the ncp (created by Pawar after falling out with Sonia). Still, well-placed sources say “every effort is being made to manage Amarinder and find a face-saving solution for Rahul”. Says a Congressman, sarcastically: “The feudals in the party have their own style. Amarinder Singh is related to Himachal chief minister Vir Bhadra Singh by marriage. They are both very independent individuals, so they will display belligerence, but take no decisions till the last minute. By which time every effort would have been made to mollify them, for there is no dispute that Amarinder should be the next CM candidate in Punjab.” Indeed, that’s the only election coming up in the next few years where the Congress is a player. Otherwise, they have—after the 2014 general elections—already lost all the states that were there to lose or where they had a presence: Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi and the Jammu region, while the bastion of Andhra Pradesh is now divided into two states with Congress out of power in both.

The ground beneath the feet continues to shrink and in future state elections—Bihar (2015), West Bengal (2016), Uttar Pradesh (2017)—the Congress is not a player. There is therefore no electoral test for Rahul to confront and then have to meditate about. Currently it’s about showing some consistency in the agitational mode and pushing the party’s ideology more left of centre, a tactic his grandmother Indira Gandhi also used when she took on the old guard of that era. The current Congress is a shadow of the grandiose assortment of men and women of those days, both from the Nehru family and those who challenged Jawaharlal’s daughter. They lost, Indira won and now Rahul gets ready to take charge of the party that’s now apparently a family concern. The battles for India come much later.

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