The ongoing political dram in Rajasthan has brought out the simmering discontent between the old guard and the young Turks. Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with the party’s Rajya Sabha MPs on Thursday clearly exposed the extent of pent-up feelings in both camps. While Sonia Gandhi is stuck with the old guard, Team Rahul wants to get rid of the deadwood and bring Rahul Gandhi back as party chief.
This is not the first time the Congress has faced such fights. It has happened whenever there is power transition. When Indira Gandhi was the prime Minister, she got rid of the old guard called the Syndicate and which included then party president K Kamaraj. When Rajiv Gandhi succeeded Indira in 1984, the old guard had apprehensions about their future. Pranab Mukherji, Gundu Rao etc. even quit the party.
Rajiv Gandhi built up his own coterie though he kept some seniors with him. Now Rahul Gandhi loyalists are impatient, resulting in a power struggle. Their frustration has been simmering since Rahul took over as president in 2017. The old guard won the last round when they brought Sonia back after Rahul’s resignation last August.
While party seniors like P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma and others openly stressed at Thursday’s meeting that the party needs to correct its course and introspect, younger leaders close to Rahul Gandhi were blunt in asking them to look back instead of blaming young Turks for the present position. Newly elected Rajya Sabha M.P Rajiv Satav led the attack.
He is reported to have said, “Introspect by all means…. but how did we come to 44…that should also be looked into. We were 200-plus in 2009. What led us to this fall? You all are now stressing the need to introspect. You were all ministers then. In all honesty, it should be looked into where you failed.” The war is continuing with leaders like Manish Tiwari jumping to defend the old guard.
Rahul’s frustration could be seen from the way he blamed seniors for not supporting him during the 2019 campaign. These open internal squabbles are due to a weak leadership. There is no doubt that there is urgent need for the Congress to introspect and correct itself. Since 2014, the Congress has lost two Lok Sabha elections and many Congress ruled states.
While it was ruling in 14 states in 2014, today it is left with only half a dozen. There are rumours that the next targets would be Maharashtra and Chattisgarh. It was only in 2018 that the Congress snatched back three states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh – from the BJP. But even after wining a state the party is not able to hold on to it.
In the last four months the Congress has lost Madhya Pradesh and may be in the process of losing Rajasthan. There is erosion and despair. Two of its charismatic leaders, Jyotiradiya Scindia and Pilot who were touted as replacements for Rahul as Congress President after his resignation last August, rebelled. Ashok Gehlot has a wafer-thin majority and it will take all his skills to save the government.
The BJP and the rebels led by Pilot are trying their best to break the Congress flock with Gehlot. Every party goes through these problems at the time of a generational shift. The present Congress has not yet learnt the trick of overcoming0 them. Surprisingly neither the old Guard nor the Young Turks have any clue about how to save the party.
The Congress was known for its umbrella culture where every section and every ideology had a place and there was room for discussion. Today this is also absent. Two big sections – Dalits and Muslims – have abandoned the party. Even the 2014 and 2019 defeats had not been discussed in a larger meeting of the AICC or in a conclave like Pachmarhi or Shimla. Only when there is discussion can ideas evolve.
Though Rahul has been plugging for democratisation and reforms, it is the status quo culture which continues. Moreover, though the party got 11 crore votes in 2019, it needs to gear up its organisation. It should also look for partners in states where it does not have much presence and strengthen the organisation where it has a direct fight with the BJP.
Above all, the leadership crisis should be resolved immediately. If Rahul wants to come back, he should do so without loss of time. Sonia should make sure the transition is smooth unlike the last time. Unfortunately both the old guard and the younger lot believe that there is no future for the Congress. The most important thing is to convince voters that Congress remains the alternative to the BJP. For this it needs leadership, direction, unity and a new narrative. These are lacking at present.