The Asian Voice

Erosion in power and authority of the Gandhi family: The Statesman columnist

In the article, the writer says that India's Congress Party suffers from lack of organisation, lack of direction and ideology, and lack of a new narrative.

Leaders within the Congress Party suggest that if Rahul Gandhi (centre) does not want to be the president, someone else should be chosen. PHOTO: @INCINDIA/TWITTER

NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There is desperation in the Congress party to resolve the leadership crisis, as at present it is a party without a full time captain.

The recent rebellion in Rajasthan and the loss of the Madhya Pradesh government in March are clear symptoms of the weakening of the Congress leadership.

Though the Rajasthan government has been saved for the time being, it will be foolish to pretend that all's well, now that Mr Ashok Gehlot has won the trust vote.

Interestingly the Rajasthan drama was enacted coinciding with Sonia Gandhi completing one year as interim party president on August 10.

Sonia continues until another president is chosen but nobody knows when. This is one of the reasons for the sudden chorus to resolve the leadership issue.

The current crisis has underscored the erosion in the power and authority of the Gandhi family.

For some time now, there is a demand from within with leaders like Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, Jairam Ramesh, Sandeep Dikshit and a few others asking for a full time president.

They suggest that if Rahul Gandhi does not want to be the president some one else should be chosen.

As Congress grapples with the leadership question, the old guard appears to be reluctant to cede space and is digging in its heels while the Young Turks are getting impatient.

Rahul himself had questioned the old guard like Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot and others for not supporting him in his campaign against the Prime Minister during the 2019 polls.

To his disappointment, the senior leaders did not resign when he quit the party post owning responsibility for the debacle.

He is uncomfortable with the old guard and they in turn are apprehensive of their future under Rahul.

Understandably, Rahul's first tenure as Congress president saw him try to push leaders of his choice antagonising senior leaders.

But right now Team Rahul is in disarray. Strangely enough it is the team built by him which is rebelling against the leadership while many expected the old guard to revolt.

In the past two years, Jyotiraditya Scindia had left the Congress and Sachin Pilot almost did. In the past six years at least 120 Congress leaders have quit to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Some handpicked Pradesh Congress Committee leaders have also left. Others like Milind Deora and Jitin Prasada are in the queue.

The Grand Old Party had survived in the past 134 years the exit of veterans like Babu Jagjivan Ram, Chandra Shekhar, Sharad Pawar and others but this time it is struggling for survival.

The problem is that during Nehru's time the party was not a family enterprise. Indira Gandhi did not succeed Nehru and her turn came only after Lal Bahadur Shastri died suddenly.

It became the Gandhi family's private company when after Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi succeeded her. Though it came to power in 1991, the Congress began to disintegrate after 1996.

Sonia Gandhi stepped in to check this erosion in 1998. She brought the party to power in 2004 and 2009 but today she is helpless.

The Congress tally in 2014 was 44 and in 2019 just 52. In 2017, though the Congress emerged as the single largest party, the BJP formed governments in both Goa and Manipur.

In the north, the party won three states in 2018 but the Congress lost Madhya Pradesh to the BJP in March after the rebellion of Scindia. Rajasthan was almost lost.

The party is losing its grip day by day and the million-dollar question is whether it will survive the present crisis without a captain.

At the root of all confusion is that only a few people like Sam Pitroda, Jairam Ramesh, K.C. Venugopal, Ajay Maken and Randeep Singh Surjewala are the inner coterie of Rahul. Among the old guard, a few like Ahmed Patel matter.

Talented leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and A.K. Antony have seen better days.

The party does not want to look beyond the Gandhis. Mani Shankar Aiyar once said the options boil down to three: Sonia or Rahul Gandhi, or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

The Congress suffers from lack of organisation, lack of direction and ideology, and lack of a new narrative.

In such a situation, how will the party fare in the upcoming Bihar elections or next year's Assembly polls in states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu unless it sets its house in order? It has to lead the opposition and find new alliance partners while keeping the old ones.

That is precisely why the Congress needs to urgently address the leadership issue.

Senior Congress leader Karan Singh rightly said, "The Congress must get out of its self-induced stupor and decide on the question of leadership urgently. Otherwise it stares at the prospect of large-scale desertions, factional wars, a demoralised cadre, and more electoral setbacks."

Prophetic words indeed!

The writer is a senior journalist. The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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