|Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pays homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat on Wednesday. Picture by Ramakanat Kushwaha
Oct. 2: A VP storms a roadshow, rolls up his sleeves, calls his bosses’ blueprint “complete nonsense” and declares it should be torn up and thrown away.
If the VP works for a company, chances are the pink slip will hit him before he returns to his cubicle.
If the VP belongs to the communist parties, the only doubt will be the location of the gulag he will be banished to for the rest of his life.
Fortunately for Rahul Gandhi, the vice-president of the Indian National Congress, such a regimented streak does not run through the organisation that describes itself as “the largest democratic party in the world”.
On the contrary, paeans are being sung to the scion who corrected a great wrong, aligned the besieged party with the public mood and injected a dose of adrenaline before the general election.
So forgiving and forbearing is the Congress that incredulity greeted a question whether disciplinary action would be initiated against Rahul for publicly going against a measure that was at that time endorsed by the political leadership, the executive leadership and the cabinet of the government run by the party.
“Action for what?” Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit retorted. “For a judgement that corrected a mistake? We are, anyway, a democratic party where everybody is free to express his or her opinion.”
Asked if the party would have forgiven any other leader for such behaviour, Dikshit threw himself — and many others — into the sacrificial arena.
“I opposed the ordinance, Digvijaya Singh opposed it publicly, Milind Deora did the same. We know many other senior leaders felt that the ordinance route was not desirable. Now everybody has taken Rahul’s advice well and the party is happy about it,” Dikshit said.
The Congress can remain in such a state of bliss because it does not have a regimented process to initiate disciplinary action. A three-member disciplinary action committee, headed by A.K. Antony, does exist.
But Antony’s own home state is a “shining” example of how liberal the party is: the Congress in Kerala has institutionalised factionalism by recognising an “I” group and an “A” group in which the vowel stands for Antony, though he is no longer identified with any faction.
Any member can file a complaint with the disciplinary committee but proceedings are usually activated only if the party president — in this case, Sonia Gandhi — gives the green signal.
In the unlikely event of any Congress member filing a complaint against Rahul, Sonia can always vet the records and conclude that the party does not take action against its senior leaders.
But younger leaders in the Congress and a large section of ordinary workers have already rendered the issue academic.
|Rahul Gandhi leaves the Prime Minister’s residence after meeting Manmohan Singh on Wednesday. Picture by Prem Singh
This group believes public opinion has greater value in politics than the niceties of institutional engagements.
“We didn’t expect such a huge tide of positive responses,” a Rahul aide said. “Our workers feel Rahul saved the party as it was getting impossible for them to justify the ordinance before ordinary people in villages and towns.”
Several leaders said party functionaries from various states were “congratulating us” for Rahul’s bold step.
A young minister refused to attach too much significance to the academic discourse on “propriety” and timing.
“We need a leader who can act decisively in moments of crisis. Rahulji was convinced the ordinance was not called for and he expressed his opinion within the party. But the cabinet took a different view, which is perfectly fine. But when he assessed the public mood and saw opposition was snowballing, he intervened to force the issue. That’s what a leader has to do. We have to understand that the government has to follow the leader.”
Some Congress leaders also pointed to the “duplicity” of main rival BJP, which went all out to exploit the public sentiment against the ordinance despite agreeing with the majority view at an all-party meeting on the Supreme Court’s order that prompted the ordinance aimed at shielding convicted legislators.
The court’s July 10 order had said any lawmaker stood disqualified the moment they were convicted of a range of specific offences.
“This is the old habit of the BJP, they say something in the meeting and something else outside,” parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said today. “We have the minutes of the meeting in which the BJP supported the decision to overturn the SC order.”
The BJP’s somersault was also a factor that had created unease in the Congress. Most Congress leaders conceded that there was a gnawing worry about the perception that the Congress was protecting corrupt and criminal elements despite the fact that several ministers in Narendra Modi’s cabinet were facing serious charges and Gujarat had passed the weakest lokayukta bill in the country.
They argued that the “credibility crisis” faced by the UPA government in the wake of the 2G and coal allocation controversies necessitated a tough line on moral issues, which Rahul had articulated.
Many leaders, particularly the younger ones usually associated with Rahul, don’t find any problem with his style either. “Had he chosen any other way, the message wouldn’t have gone out,” said a Lok Sabha MP. “People would have viewed it as scheming, surrender, damage-control and what not. Rahul had to show that he had to force the party and the government to change the usual line of compromise. He had to show that he was different.”
Rahul might have now privately assuaged Manmohan Singh’s feelings but the politics of his public act achieved its intended objective and the party has more or less understood this is not out of tune with electoral logic.
Even for the future, there won’t be any debate on who is the boss in the party.