Seniors fight for their space in Congress
The churning in the Congress, which looks like a rebellion against the leadership, may be a tussle for political space between the entrenched forces and the emerging elite.
What seems to have prompted the veterans to push back is a belief that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have lost confidence in some of the seniors who had been part of the high command structure for decades and that they are backing the newcomers to try and rebuild the organisation. The distrust is so deep that any mishandling could have grave consequences.
Off-the-record conversations with the seniors suggest there won’t be any compromise on the demand for a mechanism for collective leadership, which could come in the form of a parliamentary board or a working committee that is truly representative.
In a nutshell, the entrenched forces aren’t ready to be cut off the decision-making processes.
It’s clearly not a battle against Sonia or Rahul. The veterans want a transparent, institutionalised decision-making system in which their views too would be taken into account.
Scratch the surface and what emerges is a push for a balance of power, the argument being that those who have given their blood and toil for the party over decades can’t be discarded because the leadership has developed a liking for someone else.
The demand is that the decisions about appointments to party posts, candidatures for elections and nominations for Rajya Sabha seats, as well as the strategy-making, be broad-based and deliberated at designated forums.
The situation is similar to that forgotten chapter of Congress history when the veteran Jitendra Prasada, who had been political adviser to Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and Rajiv Gandhi, contested for the post of party president against Sonia.
He had confided in private that he had nothing against Sonia, who was the undisputed leader, but had challenged her to rub in the message that she was not demonstrating the objectivity and impartiality expected of the supreme authority.
Prasada had felt that seniors like him, Rajesh Pilot and many others were being ignored and that the party president was relying solely on the coterie of Arjun Singh, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni and a few others.
“It is for a democratic culture within the party, not against the authority of Sonia Gandhi, that I decided to contest,” Prasada would say in private.
After the election, Sonia graciously called and assured Prasada that everybody would be treated equally, bringing the curtain down on the bitter contest.
The same sentiment is playing out all over again.
The issue is more about Rahul’s choices than his abilities, with the veterans ruing that undeserving people were being given critical responsibilities.
They have been mentioning a couple of names and arguing that Rahul has been unable to constitute a strong team around himself amid the setbacks and the drift in the party.
They claim that while the need of the hour is “unity of purpose”, a self-destructive agenda of purge has been guiding the leadership’s approach.
The seniors say they are not opposed to the encouragement of talented youth, but insist that age (youth) should not be the sole criterion in the selection for key responsibilities.
“Rahul is young but we all accepted him as leader. Who opposed the appointment of Sachin Pilot as Rajasthan deputy chief minister? Who opposed Ajay Maken’s appointment as Delhi chief in place of Sheila Dikshit or Hardik Patel’s rise in Gujarat?” a former leader said.
“Our demand for internal elections will encourage the younger leaders who enjoy grassroots support. But who will appreciate it if you want to kick out the seniors out of pique?”
While the party does have a few leaders who could play the role of objective arbitrator, having the stature and influence to drum some sense into both sides, the younger leaders too seem unable to analyse the crisis dispassionately and appear to support a violent purge.
Worse, many among the younger leaders believe that some of the seniors have been compromised and would not fight the Narendra Modi dispensation honestly.
The bridges that have collapsed will have to be rebuilt if the party intends to salvage the situation without serious damage to itself.