The Telegraph
Friday , June 6 , 2014
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I’m there (even if Rahul is not)

New Delhi, June 5: Sonia Gandhi has written to Congress candidates who lost the Lok Sabha polls, assuring them that “I am always with you in this struggle” which, she warned, would be “long”.

The words of comfort were embraced with gratitude by the demoralised candidates but several leaders wondered why Rahul Gandhi was not taking such initiatives and whether Sonia was also trying to defuse the discontent brewing in the party before it blew up on the young leader.

What has deepened the frustration of many leaders is the absence of any sign that Rahul has learnt any lesson from the setback and would stop relying on the same set of “key advisers”.

Sonia’s letter contended that being in Parliament was not the sole purpose of being in politics and everybody should work hard to win back the trust of the people. Pointing out that she would miss them in the Lok Sabha, Sonia said: “I know you fought hard in the election but couldn’t win. But you have to prepare for the future role. We need to do some solid work. This requires hard work and dedication.”

In a pointer to the plight of the Congress, Sonia admitted that reviving the party was a “serious challenge”. “This path is long and requires relentless struggle. But I am confident you can overcome the hostile conditions with your determination and hard work. I am always there with you in this struggle. I shall be in regular contact with all of you.”

Sonia’s humility and assurance that she would be part of the struggle touched many leaders. They recalled her single-handed fight against the BJP when Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s popularity was supposed to be at its zenith in 2004. The Congress was adrift then too but managed to unseat the India Shining regime.

These leaders hope that Rahul would learn from his mother and show better intent, grit and commitment in the coming years. Rahul today met the youngest girl who climbed the Everest. Later, he issued a statement condemning rapes in Amethi and elsewhere.

Even the top leadership has realised Sonia still commands the respect and trust of the party workers while Rahul has not been able to build similar goodwill for himself.

In fact, if some leaders read Sonia’s letter in terms of the depth of the crisis, others saw this as the custodian’s intervention to calm the restive party workers.

A veteran MP who lost the election said: “Sonia tried to reaffirm that she stood behind us like a rock. She was telling us ‘you were not at fault’. She tried to inject a sense of purpose and create a ray of hope. Above all, she is trying to ensure we stay united.”

Another leader said: “While Sonia’s letter came as a reassurance, Rahul’s aides have not shown any change in their attitude. Madhusudan Mistry has written letters to very senior leaders, asking them to come for discussions on the electoral outcome. Instead of asking Mistry to issue summons like a police SHO, Rahul should have found time to talk to us himself.”

Although both Sonia and Rahul have been meeting a large number of leaders from different states to gauge the nature of the crisis and the reasons, the absence of any hint of a change in the core team has created unease and prompted some disgruntled sections to warn of rebellion. Rahul’s reluctance to accept the leader of the Opposition’s post, too, has dismayed a lot of leaders.

According to some Rahul aides, he is not interested in making cosmetic changes and his focus is on ways to structurally transform the party organisation.

But a party leader said: “Individuals do matter. Had the BJP not used Modi as it did, they would have ended up with 160 seats, irrespective of the anti-Congress mood prevailing in the country. The BJP showed that a Shivraj Chouhan and a Vasundhara Raje matter as individuals. Rahul should understand this instead of getting obsessed with structures.”

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