In India, Sachin Pilot, now the Congress rebel with his own cause, has been squarely told by the Gandhi family trio that his grievances against perennial rival Ashok Gehlot, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, will be handled by Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress Party President.
Rahul Gandhi makes it a point to visit Kharge’s residence and have joint meetings with Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, who is fast emerging as the “Sutradhaar” (central figure) of opposition unity against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Modi.
Kharge took, and more importantly, was seen to be taking all the decisions relating to who would become the Chief Minister of Karnataka when Siddaramaiah and D K Shivakumar faced off.
Sonia Gandhi had a brief chat with DKS, as he is universally called, and told him that his sacrifice would be rewarded “soon.” However, she then left Delhi for cooler climes, emphasising that she, the longest-serving President of the Congress, was not back seat driving her successor.
Finding the moorings
This is the second time the Gandhi family, which wields outsized influence and power in the party, is publicly deferring to the President. Earlier, Sonia Gandhi had shown a similar display of respect towards Dr Manmohan Singh, the leader she had chosen and who served as the two-term Prime Minister of India.
By emphasising that Kharge, as widely anticipated, is not a figurehead in the top job in the Congress, the Gandhi family has managed to cease being the punching bag for all the problems afflicting the Congress and actually focus on the part of politics they enjoy.
This new version of Congress - India’s oldest political party - takes no prisoners and is ready for a tough fight
Therefore, Rahul Gandhi is now comfortable in his role as the chief ideologue of the Congress Party, resetting its ideology to the left of centre, where he has now reached with a conviction that was missing from his previous temple-hopping avatar.
Gandhi wants the Congress to be a pro-poor party with welfarism at the heart of its agenda. The five guarantees in Karnataka and the selection of Siddaramaiah, from the shepherd caste, for the top job are all indicative of the new populist turn of the Congress party.
Congress Party's Reboot
Gandhi has also thrown the Congress’s weight behind a caste census to determine a new reservation policy for India, ensuring that job and education availability is based on the actual size of the castes that make up the country.
This is a direct confrontation with the BJP, as the Sangh Parivar, especially the RSS, seeks a united Hindu samaj and has been opposed to the caste census and reservation. The opposition is essentially reviving Mandal 2.0 (politics involving Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes) to take on Hindutva Kamandal (politics of hardline Hindu nationalism).
Rahul Gandhi is close friends with Sitaram Yechury of the left, to the extent that Yechury is considered to have more influence on him than senior Congress leaders.
After shedding his fellow silver spoon heirloom, Babalog leaders from the Congress, such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, and R P N Singh, Gandhi has rebooted his politics.
The only holdover from the heirloom group of Gandhi contemporaries is Sachin Pilot, who was the most energetic and popular among them.
Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has completely transformed him. Perhaps, for the first time, Rahul interacted with real Indians, unfettered by security. Gandhi was previously trapped in a security bubble and was a victim of a certain image assiduously created by the BJP.
For the first time, Gandhi was up close and personal with India, and judging by the impact his Yatra had on the seats in Karnataka, India liked what it saw of Rahul Gandhi unplugged. Priyanka Gandhi’s political strengths have been her ability to communicate with the public and enthuse the Congress workers.
With the organisational reboot, she is now the chief campaigner of the Congress, as evident in the Himachal Pradesh elections and again in the Congress’s Karnataka campaign.
A unified show
Sonia Gandhi is the only leader in India who is serious about retirement and has gracefully ensured a transition to Kharge in organisational issues.
Kharge does not find her looking over his shoulder in decision-making. Gandhi is so concerned about the optics of not calling the shots that she physically left Delhi when the Karnataka leadership issue was being resolved.
Congress 2.0 is a joint show between Kharge, who handles the party organisation, Rahul Gandhi as the chief ideologue offering firm resistance to the idea of Hindu Rashtra, and taking on Modi head-on, with Priyanka Gandhi as the chief campaigner.
This new version of India’s oldest political party takes no prisoners and is ready for a fight.