Rahul Gandhi outside Parliament on Wednesday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, July 23: The resentment against Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning is growing and many senior Congress leaders expect party president Sonia Gandhi to intervene and persuade her son to work with greater flexibility.
This sentiment is being expressed in private by leaders who have been part of Sonia’s team, key functionaries in the Manmohan Singh government and even those not in the inner circle and critical of the entrenched forces in the command structure.
Several leaders from states as well as current and former MPs also feel that Rahul will have to adjust to the Congress culture instead of dreaming of a sudden radical change.
None of these leaders, however, appears to be in a rebellious mood. They accept that only Sonia is capable of turning around the party and also have no quarrel with the succession plan. They are resigned to live with Rahul, though most of them acknowledge the existence of a “problem that needs to be rectified by Sonia”. Some of these leaders are also perceived to have an excellent rapport with Rahul.
Hundreds of Congress leaders from across the country who have met Sonia and Rahul in the recent past have strongly advocated “change”, implying that there were serious flaws in the functioning of the party. Although some of them mustered the courage to point fingers at key aides of both Sonia and Rahul, the general complaints have revolved around the attitude of second-rung leaders, AICC general secretaries, state functionaries and the apathy towards ordinary party workers.
Such blame game has been an integral part of Congress culture. What is new today is the conflict between those who ran Sonia’s system for years and Rahul’s aides.
The comment of a leader who has served the Congress for 30 years now reflected the chasm. “We have accepted Rahul as the leader and now he has to accept us as his followers,” the leader said.
Another leader narrated what Rahul had told a meeting. “At a PCC meeting in Uttar Pradesh two years ago, Rahul told Congressmen to mend their ways or else he would remove all of them and fill the space with new leaders. He said we can conspire to defeat the party in the 2012 state election, the 2014 general election and more, but he doesn’t care. He will rebuild a new Congress but make no compromises. ‘Sab ko bahar kar dunga,’ he said.”
The leader added: “There is no doubt Congressmen fight among each other, shirk responsibilities and conspire, but the supreme leader has to embrace all and motivate, not threaten.”
These leaders find a sharp contrast in the conduct of Sonia and Rahul, who had said at a meeting with Delhi leaders that his mother was soft and he would like to deal with things firmly like his grandmother Indira Gandhi.
Party leaders say Rahul has shown toughness but without much application of mind. “His Press Club act of throwing the ordinance (on tainted politicians) into the dustbin for which he later expressed regret is continuing,” an AICC functionary said. “There has been Press Club Act-II, III and so on. He is in that mood.”
Those close to Rahul have little doubt that the “entrenched forces” were responsible for the mess and the young vice-president was not given the freedom to set things right. They even smell a conspiracy to derail Rahul’s plans and insist a thorough clean-up is required to rebuild the party after its worst-ever defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.
Many ordinary workers and state leaders see merit in this argument and regret that Rahul had not yet enforced an overhaul. Ironically, these elements also have a lot to complain against Rahul’s choice of people.
While most party workers support Rahul’s plan to conduct elections for every post, senior leaders are convinced this would prove to be counter-productive. They want the process of democratisation to start from the bottom and gradually expand to the higher echelons.
But all agree that the two viewpoints need to find a meeting ground and are waiting for an effective intervention by the party president who has, in the recent past, given excessive importance to the views of the vice-president.