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Pawar’s taunt finds echo in Cong
Seen at Sonia’s: the old guard

New Delhi, Dec. 9: Congress president Sonia Gandhi today held a post-mortem session with her colleagues to examine the reasons for the Assembly poll debacle as taunts from the friends and foes alike and a deep sense of anguish among the party rank and file further dampened the mood in the UPA.

Sonia called the general secretaries of the states that went to polls. A grim party president bluntly told the leaders that nothing could have been worse for the party a few months before the general election than the Assembly poll collapse.

A change that stood out today was the return of the collective leadership under Sonia as veterans like A.K. Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel were called for the meeting in addition to Rahul Gandhi who used to handle such operations alone in recent times.

After the setback in Uttar Pradesh last year, Rahul had held a series of meetings with state leaders, candidates and MLAs as Sonia kept aloof.

Today, the general secretaries — Mohan Prakash in charge of Madhya Pradesh, Gurudas Kamat (Rajasthan), B.K. Hariprasad (Chhattisgarh) and Shakeel Ahmed (Delhi) — reeled out “causes” like high prices, corruption charges against the UPA Government, internal fighting, problems in candidate selection and the overall negative mood against the Congress. But senior leaders did not appear convinced.

Sources said Sonia was “extremely upset” but did not ask for resignations of the general secretaries. She did not drop any hint of impending changes in the central government or the party organisation but an overwhelming sentiment exists among leaders that ordinary workers would get completely disheartened in the absence of a drastic action.

One leader said later: “It is as bad as the sinking feeling. Workers will sit at home or quit the Congress if the leadership shows a business-as-usual attitude. This is a crisis that can destroy the party’s morale.”

The level of anxiety and frustration is so deep that some Congress leaders were seen congratulating each other on the result. One MP explained: “Had the result been any better, they would have ignored the crisis and tried to paper over the cracks. For instance, had we won Chhattisgarh, the bosses would have rationalised the outcome. Now this hard slap should jolt them. Although it is too late, we can still try to minimise the damage that is usually caused by our own stupidity.”

On Parliament premises, many Congress leaders were enthusiastically recalling what Sharad Pawar had said about the “weak leadership” in their party. Some of them went up to Pawar to congratulate him and other NCP leaders like Tariq Anwar.

In a blog in Marathi, Pawar had referred to the anger of the youths and said: “This shows that the ruler need to be strong and a decision-maker. Not only that, the ruler should able to implement the decisions taken. People don’t like weak rulers.”

Anwar explained the statement: “There is a leadership crisis in the Congress. By firm leadership, Pawar meant an ability to identify the problem and solve it quickly. Without indecision or confusion — like Indira Gandhi did.”

He declined to entertain question whether Pawar’s taunt was aimed at Rahul.

Pawar took a subtle dig at Sonia’s reliance on the National Advisory Council, too, contending that “jholawallahs who give free suggestion without much understanding of ground reality do not reflect public opinion”.

Pawar said that weak leadership had led to the rise of what he described as “pseudo activist” — an oblique reference to Arvind Kejriwal — who influenced people by making unrealistic or false promises. Pawar had attacked the Congress leadership and complained to the Prime Minister against the mishandling of the Anna Hazare movement.

Commenting on Pawar’s blog, NCP leader Praful Patel said: “It was time for a course correction. I am not saying Pawar meant to speak about an individual. But collectively as a government, things have gone wrong. It’s time to make amends.”

What is worrying is that a large number of Congress leaders agree with Pawar and privately express reservations against Rahul’s style of functioning. Many leaders today complained that the core team that handled the elections — general secretaries Madhusudan Mistry, Mohan Prakash and C.P. Joshi — was picked by Rahul without giving consideration to the vital fact that they did not know the Congress organisation well enough.