Reluctant Congress High Command prepares for party election

K N Pandita
Congress High Command has decided on party elections that will be held after a gap of 22 years. The long gap and how the High Command treated the imperative of election within the party show that the Congress stalwarts gave scant importance to democratic norms.
No voice was raised for having elected office bearers in the party and everybody seemed to be happy with the High Command ignoring elections and democratic dispensation. Why did it happen so? There must be a reason for them to remain tight-lipped for two decades and more. Either they were cowards complacent with slavery or they were bandaged with largesse beyond their expectations.
The Congress High Command duo was deep in secret rivalry as to who of the two would be the president. Both were engaged secretly raising their support constituencies when finally Sonia felt that her son had cultivated a large chunk of Indian youth especially the student community of the so-called Nehruvian cult, she withdrew to her shell keeping the elders of the party in good humour.
As Congress President, Rahul Gandhi did two things. The first was to make the elders of the party feel that they were not his priority and second, he enlisted radical youth not only from his party but from the Muslim, Left, and other segments. They became his advisers, consultants and confidants. On their prompting, he started attending rallies and assemblies that had bidden goodbye to the traditional ethos of the Congress. His joining the student rallies in JNU and standing shoulder to shoulder with the “Bharat ke tukde tukde group” was rather embarrassing for his mother too.
Defeat in two successive parliamentarian elections was mostly attributed by the seniors in the Congress to Rahul Gandhi’s political immaturity and high-handedness in distributing the tickets. Throughout this disturbing and discouraging scenario, Sonia Gandhi maintained her stoic demeanour posing as if there was no remorse for the waywardness of her son in handling a party with such a grandiose record of past performance.
Rahul’s advisors and consultants, mostly inexperienced and ignorant of the history of the Indian nation, thought that the elders were only a burden and an impediment to their plans and programmes. Sufficient hints were dropped indicating that seniors should vacate. Rahul went to the extent of insulting them in party meetings. That is what the seniors like Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma said openly.
Driven to the wall, 22 senior Congressmen, who had steered the party through many storms in the past, came together and out of goodwill and conviction wrote to Sonia Gandhi about the sordid state of affairs in the party and the need to reform beginning with the election of office bearers according to the constitution of the party. The letter signed by Ghulam Nabi Azad on behalf of the dissident group indirectly brought most of the blames for the Congress deficit to its doorsteps of Rahul.
Sensing that more Congressmen might join hands with the dissident group if the matter was delayed, she convened a meeting with the dissidents and promised those reforms and elections, she managed to put the crown of president-ship on her head as a make-shift arrangement till the elections process was initiated.
Her ill health took her to the US for medical advice. But before leaving for the US, she called the Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to Delhi and told him to prepare himself as the next Congress Chief. Two things have to be analysed. One is why Sonia called in Gehlot and the second is what Gehlot’s reaction was.
In naming Ashok Gehlot as the new candidate for the position of President, the only consideration that became the decisive factor was that was a sitting duck, as imbecile as Manmohan Singh not to say no to whatever Rahul dictated to him. All the youth programmes which Rahul has in mind can be legitimized when the new President puts his seal on it and the seal he will put in any case. He was also easily removable if Rahul wanted to jump into the driver’s seat. This served the purpose of Sonia and Rahul both.
As for the reaction of Gehlot, he was rather taken aback by the suggestion. It meant that he had to give up the position of the chief minister. He did not like to give up the position as a chief minister not just because he meant to be in power but because he was not in any way going to accept Pilot, the Deputy CM as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan. He was on the horns of a dilemma. Not able to say to Sonia, he floated the idea of one man two posts in the vain hope that the solution of himself continuing as CM of Rajasthan could work as Congress President also. But Rahul Gandhi reminded him of the formula long back accepted by Congress and that was one man one post.
Finding that there were no takers of his suggestion, he sheepishly agreed to be in New Delhi and run the affairs of the Congress and forget Rajasthan. In his most recent utterances, he has toned down his animus against Sachin Pilot and reconciled to the loss of the chief minister position of Rajasthan.
There appears a secret understanding between Rahul Gandhi and Sachin Pilot on the deal. Ashok Gehlot reconciled only after understanding that Sachin Pilot has a strong connection with Rahul. But the saying goes that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Will Sachin Pilot be given the chance to succeed Ashok Gehlot or not only the time will decide?
If Sachin is catapulted to the seat of the Chief Minister, he will be in a rather uncomfortable position. The pro-Gehlot group will hardly behave the way Sachin would like to. He can have a tough time. It is also possible that Sachin would welcome a rift in the cabinet and its percolation down to ranks in the party. Sachin Pilot has to create conditions that can guarantee the dal-Badal attitude of Sachin groups. It is here where the BJP may try to get involved in the Rajasthan political nitty-gritty.
We do not see that Congress will be having bright days shortly. Contrary to expectations of Sonia, Gehlot is not going to be elected unopposed. He has a strong rival in Shashi Tharoor. Despite persuasion from some quarters in the Congress, Tharoor declined to withdraw in favour of any candidate. Rahul depends on the cadres in South India and Shashi comes from the South. If these two candidates are left in the field, then it is a contest between the “yes group” and the “reformist group” in Congress.