Euphoria makes people misjudge reality. Supporters of the Congress had turned euphoric on December 11 after the party managed to defeat the BJP in all three states where it was in power and where the Congress was BJP’s only challenger. If Gandhi is blamed for its defeats, he must be given credit for its victories too. That was a basic rule that even Modi-driven news channels reluctantly followed on verdict day. Unfortunately, for the Congress, one of its ‘Young Turks’ gave a reality check to the world soon. Sachin Pilot’s ‘revolt’ and the instant violence his apparent supporters unleashed after it became clear that he will not be made the Chief Minister of Rajasthan gave us a clear vision of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership skills.
Prior to the ‘revolt’, news channels questioned the logic of the Congress high command deciding on the chief ministerial choices for the three states the party won, when the Constitution clearly states the legislature party has to elect its leader. This line of questioning is more than 20 years old, when the first few private ‘Indian channels’ started beaming news into India. Ignorance apart, it was also a way of the channels to show how they were ‘independent’ unlike the ‘sarkari’ Doordarshan. However, in the process, they created a myth about the Congress party and its culture.
The myth is that the Gandhi family is all powerful and decided on who should be leader and who should be side-lined based on what Sonia Gandhi, then, and Rahul Gandhi, now, feels. The myth suited the BJP and other Opposition parties to question the inner democracy in the Congress. It also suited the satraps and the power brokers in the Congress who wished to remain out of media scrutiny. Ironically, it even suited Sonia Gandhi, who needed something to reassure herself about her relevance in the Congress scheme of things and national politics.
For keen political watchers unaware of the reality in the Congress, some indication of the power equations in the party was available prior to Rahul Gandhi’s takeover when he said, “I’m not like my mother, who is considerate to everyone. I would be tough.” That was more of wishful thinking or reflection of his misconception about his abilities and those in his party. Anyone in Gandhi’s place would have by now discovered that things were not as easy as perceived.
Even after he was made Congress Vice-President, Gandhi remained cocooned in an elite club comprising wannabe leaders trying to cosy up to him, his father’s erstwhile friends, people they recommended and professionals who could supply him with computerised data. He started tinkering with his party, starting with the All India Youth Congress he was in charge. We heard homilies about how ‘everyone should get a chance to come up in politics and he was there to demolish dynastic politics’. It’s a pity that no one told him that Buddha renounced the world before saying ‘desire was the root cause of evil.’ Gandhi never understood the irony of his remark.
His experiments of cleansing student and youth politics fell flat and the Congress’ vital youth wing practically disappeared. By the time the Congress needed youth to counter the RSS-engineered India Against Corruption movement, the party had no one in the NSUI or IYC to lead the counter-attack. Gandhi himself disappeared to the US to look after his ailing mother, while an honest man with no political roots was lampooned as the most corrupt PM of India.
Gandhi learnt no lessons still and started suggesting his own people for different posts in various state party organisations. Regional Congress leaders in each state used different techniques to put Gandhi and his men in their place. For example, while Oommen Chandy and Ramesh Chennithala made a fool out of V M Sudheeran, a seasoned veteran who had lost out in the power struggle long ago, in Kerala, in Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh plainly told Gandhi that he would form a party if he was not made the PCC chief.
Yet he did not learn any lesson even after ‘surrendering’ several times. Each defeat in each state and the Congress decimation in the Lok Sabha polls that surprised even the BJP taught him no right lesson. Even as recent as a month ago, he tried to fiddle with the candidates’ list for Madhya Pradesh after making a rare right call in selecting Kamal Nath as PCC President.
Nath had managed to get warring factions of Digvijaya Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Ajay Singh to work together but Gandhi had a list of his own. In the olden days, when Digvijaya Singh had the ‘Central avenue’ of power, he would have yielded, kept away from campaigning, ensured candidates selected by Gandhi were defeated and indirectly facilitated BJP’s return to power. However, with the Modi-led Government and party all set to finish him off, Singh had no choice but literally fight and threaten Gandhi at a meeting to finalise the list in Bhopal. After he had his way and Nath ironed out remaining differences with other factions, Congress won a rare victory in what had become an RSS fortress in 15 years. The win is significant all the more as the BSP had cut into Congress votes in several seats.
Not long before media pundits started gushing about Congress’ ‘3-0’ score was Pilot’s ‘revolt’. This must have been a new lesson for Gandhi as Pilot’s existence was dependent on Gandhi’s patronage. What has not appeared in the media is the fact that during the AICC observers meeting with the newly-elect in Jaipur, only 7 out of the 99 Congress MLAs supported Pilot, while the remaining favoured Gehlot. The same thing happens after each assembly election, where a factional leader outmanoeuvres another. The ‘legislature party authorising the high command to select the CM’ is a charade that started during the Indira Gandhi days. It was to show that no satrap was powerful to challenge the central leader. While Indira Gandhi’s insecurities created the charade, the BJP under Modi-Shah has lapped it up for the same reason. While Indira, earlier, and Modi now could cut down any satrap to size, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi has never been in such a position.
However, the charade helped maintain a façade that suited everyone. The loser in the CM race doesn’t suffer the humiliation, the winner looks like he is above factions and the party figurehead appears all powerful. By dithering before Pilot, Gandhi has demonstrated he is not firm in dealing with even an acolyte. He should, hence, be willing to continue with his mother’s charade unless he can magically develop some leadership skills.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 17th December 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 51)