When the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meet was underway in Delhi on 16 October, a call from a senior Congressman shook me.
The leader narrated how he remained loyal to his party all along (I’ve been a witness to his work in Congress since 1985). With the entry of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar (young Marxist leaders), there is little space for Congressmen, who have worked at the grass roots under Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, he complained.
When Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat and fast becoming the major figure in India, this Congressman -- under the guidance of his senior leaders -- fought against Modi’s politics. When BJP emerged as the most powerful political voice in the country, even then this traditional Congressman stuck to his party or its secular politics.
At a time when Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi get daily media attention, when their tweets go viral on social media, when Sonia Gandhi asserts her authority in the CWC, this sincere Gujarati Congressman has lost all hope in his beloved Congress.
It was shocking to me that such a secular Congressman -- of 40-years -- is now looking at ways to get ‘access’ to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to arrange his ‘conversion’.
Many Delhi analysts have dubbed the CWC as assertion of the Gandhi family’s power in the Congress party.
The fundamental issues
Truth may not be exactly so. Let’s cut the clutter and understand what the fundamental issues are.
A senior Congress leader and key member of the so-called G-23 told me, “The fundamental issue is that Sonia Gandhi is the ‘interim president’. Some suggest she is the working president. Under the Congress constitution, such arrangement cannot continue beyond a year but she did. Two, she asserted herself in the CWC just ‘to imply’ -- without saying as many in words -- that she is ‘the president’ so she has the grip over party matters.”
Another issue that’s bothering the Congress leaders is the vague legal status of Rahul Gandhi within the party.
One senior state leader, who has fallen out of favour with the Gandhis, claims, “Rahul Gandhi resigned after the stunning failure of his leadership in 2019 but the mother and the son duo have not clarified or defined Rahul's role in shaping current affairs or the future of the Congress."
Most leaders in Congress want an assertive leadership — of Rahul Gandhi — and if he is reluctant, then whoever is a better alternative should take over. This will help the party work with authority, enthusiasm and clarity of purpose.
But the biggest issue within the Congress is about its ideology. Under Rahul, it is work under progress.
Why Congressmen are up the wall
That scares, irritates and angers old leaders and Rahul Gandhi is well aware of it. He is trying to build a new Congress without saying so explicitly. He doesn’t find enough thought-friends among his mother’s loyalists.
The bone of contention within the Congress is Rahul’s irritation with the so-called mainstream India.
A Congressman, who is part and parcel of the ‘Congress family’ claims that Rahul Gandhi is a dreamer and doesn’t want to evolve. The defeats and the lessons of 2014 and 2019 have gone waste. He added that there is something called the ‘inner voice of India’.
“We want the Congress to represent the common men and women of India. Congress never liked these Marxists and extreme right-wing types. They are not acceptable to us,” the leader explained.
“When Rahul inducts Kanhaiya Kumar, we know for sure what he believes in. Rahul is not mainstream India. If he wants more votes than Narendra Modi, let Congress hear the voice of mainstream India,” the Congressman concludes.
The recent CWC meeting and Priyanka’s politics in UP are pointers of the Gandhi siblings’ new charter for the Congress. They are not wary of displeasing their conventional allies like Tejsawi Yadav nor do they care much for those Congressmen who believe in soft handling of ‘Hindutva issues’ — people like Captain Amrinder Singh and A.K. Antony, for instance.
Rahul Gandhi thinks most Congressmen of the older generations are compromised, their secularism degenerated, as one Congress leader reposed in me.
Now, that’s subjective opinion but what’s definite is that Rahul Gandhi is playing into the BJP-RSS plan of making Congress vacate the centrist space of Indian politics.