“More mama, less drama,” a senior leader of the Congress party, who had signed on the dissent letter, quipped to me post the nearly nine-hour marathon meeting of the Congress Working Committee. Sonia Gandhi extended her lien on her interim chief title. Again.
The meet came post the dissent letter, which demanded a “full-time chief” and which was signed by 23 Congress leaders, including former minister and MP’s.
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These include: Shashi Tharoor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Manish Tiwari and Kapil Sibal. The meet was an anti-climax, a farce, as a well prepared team Gandhi (mother, son, daughter) and their managers took on the letter writers.
The strategy to keep control and isolate the dissenters worked. The CWC led by Rahul Gandhi questioned the timing of the letter saying: “It was sent when the Congress president was in hospital and we were battling to save our government in Rajasthan. Such things when they go out to the BJP-controlled media only help the BJP.”
What Gandhi and the family loyalists managed to do was debate the timing of the letter and not its contents, which shone a spotlight on the near shambolic functioning of the Congress party after losing two general elections on the trot. The CWC focused on berating the letter writers with A.K. Antony calling it “cruel”.
The family first leaders paid the obligatory tributes to the Gandhi trio asking Sonia Gandhi to continue and if that was not possible let Rahul Gandhi take charge. This chorus was led by former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
The dissenters were immediately on the back foot with Azad offering to quit if Kumari Selja’s charge that he was in cahoots with the BJP could be proved.
The Congress these days is a “Twitter Pradhan” party and Sibal shot off an angry tweet against Rahul Gandhi before recanting. The well-oiled Ahmed Patel machinery rolled on with all Congress chief ministers, including Amrinder Singh of Punjab and Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, swearing eternal loyalty to the Gandhi family and their leadership. All Congress organisations did the same.
So what did the Congress manage to achieve?
It ducked and sidestepped the Rahul returns question for another six months. But, make no mistake Rahul is clearly calling the shots in the party using his mother as a rubber stamp. Yet, party leaders are very nervous about his eventual take-over as party chief and his ever-changing team of unerringly picked mediocre leaders.
The Congress did not think it worth discussing the content and tenor of their opposition to the Modi government. How to take on the BJP for surrendering land to China post a border stand-off, the economic crisis facing the country, which predates the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the fast vanishing democratic rights in the country.
It chose to focus on the “traitors” who wrote asking for meaningful opposition.
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The bleeding away of young talent like the defection of Jyotiraditya Scindia to the BJP, the fall of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, the near defection of Sachin Pilot, all these crisis points did not make it to the agenda.
Instead, Rahul Gandhi, who one of the dissenters described as a “50-year-old man child” will continue to call the shots and provide his own unique brand of leadership.
The leadership issue has been deferred for six months. But, the existential crisis facing the country’s oldest political party will not go away.
Not until the party confronts reality and makes much needed leadership changes. The 23 dissenters currently described as traitors rocking the boat will eventually go down in history as those who tried to save the congress party.