The Telegraph
Saturday , June 28 , 2014
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Team Rahul rift with veterans vexes Sonia

New Delhi, June 27: As Sonia Gandhi works on plans to restructure the Congress after its worst election debacle, irreconcilable positions taken by veterans and Rahul Gandhi aides seem to be her primary concern.

The eruption of conflicting views on the causes of the rout has not been temporary and mistrust between the two sides has deepened. While there is a sustained campaign against some Rahul aides by Congressmen at all levels, the belief that entrenched forces brought the party to such a pass has not changed.

Although public sparring has stopped, leaders do not mince words in private conversations. They blame each other for the humiliating defeat and demand immediate measures to revive the party. There is no revolt because both sides have little doubt about the inevitability of Rahul’s leadership; the conflict is about processes, direction and human resource management.

Internal election is an issue that divides the leadership. Most senior leaders and Congress chief Sonia herself do not favour elections for top posts and the working committee. But Rahul aides insist only democratic processes will unshackle the party from vested interests.

A senior leader said: “Had there been election in the parliamentary party, Kamal Nath would have emerged victorious for the leader. But both Sonia and Rahul preferred Mallikarjun Kharge for genuine political reasons. We should understand election has a limited value in the party system.”

Asked about the future course, a Rahul aide said: “You can’t have a leader whose ideas are not implemented in the party. What power was Rahul given before the election? He tried to make changes in the organisation but that was resisted.

“He had to go to the battlefield with so much burden… of scams, bad image of the government, high prices, policy paralysis. If the party still got over 10 crore votes, it is because of his efforts. What was the contribution of those leaders who have been running the party for 15-20 years?”

This assessment is countered by questions on the ability, attitude and performance of those whom Rahul tends to rely on. What should be of concern to Rahul is that his aides are unpopular even among younger people as well as lesser-known state leaders, not only among the few who have been an integral part of the high command structure for around two decades. Most of the present and former MPs and state office-bearers feel Sonia ran a better system.

The outrage among Maharashtra MLAs and other leaders against some of Rahul’s aides is a case in point. Concern about the chief minister’s efficacy is understandable as elections have to be fought under his leadership, but such anger is rare against the AICC general secretary who has a limited role.

There is extreme disquiet about the role of veterans too, be it in the context of communication failure or organisational mess, crony politics or corrupt practices.

Even ordinary workers point out how state units were ignored, sycophants promoted and critical issues mishandled over the last decade. The organisation remained sluggish, doing little more than periodic rituals even when anti-incumbency against the UPA regime kept intensifying.

Unless Sonia manages to harmonise the two positions, it is difficult to create the sense of unity and purpose required to revive the party.

However, internal strife and disunity continue to be the Congress’s worst enemy despite the debilitating blow from the people. Sources say Sonia has the ability to bring factions closer, but Rahul has yet to demonstrate the tolerance and sense of accommodation to carry everybody along.

“His concept of restructuring is very rigid, he will have to learn the art of dealing with divergent opinions,” a leader said.

Asked if Rahul could succeed in such an atmosphere, a party MP said: “Soniaji is best suited to lead us in this difficult time. Rahul is intelligent, he has good ideas, is very sincere… but he has to develop leadership skills.

“His choice of people too has rightly raised eyebrows. He feels more comfortable with the young and apolitical. This has to change as the entire party, every single Congressman and woman, has accepted him as the leader.”