By Srinivasan K. Rangachary
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has made it clear to her senior colleagues that Rahul Gandhi, and not Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, would shortly be succeeding her. Consequently, the chorus for bringing Rahul back as the party chief has commenced, and on Saturday, the first salvo was fired by the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Bhupesh Baghel, who categorically stated that Rahul alone would be the natural choice for the coveted post. Within the Congress there were enough indications that Rahul was going to make a comeback, and this could be even as early as the 134th anniversary of the grand old party later this month. The demand for his reinstatement would gather momentum shortly after the Bharat Bachao rally, being organised on 14 December at the Ram Lila ground. It is definitely more than a coincidence that the Congress protest against the economic policies of the NDA government is being held on the late Sanjay Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
Significantly, it is mostly leaders handpicked by Sanjay who over the past four decades have dominated Congress politics. They include Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ambika Soni, Ahmed Patel, Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot. Sources have stated that some time ago Sonia Gandhi had sounded some of her close colleagues that she was not keeping good health, and, therefore, was unable to energetically campaign during crucial elections. In the light of this development she would not be able to discharge her duties for long and the party should be prepared to choose a new leader. Sensing that the majority view within the Congress was that Priyanka should succeed her, she ruled out her daughter’s elevation to the post, due to her preoccupation with family matters. A senior associate and her loyalist requested her to continue, and name her successor and said that without the Gandhis at the helm, the Congress would not be able to sustain itself. At this juncture, it became obvious that Rahul would once again be requested to take over the reins of the organisation. The political merry-go-around has not surprised party veterans, who are convinced that the Congress president clearly prefers her son over her daughter as the next chief, even though Rahul, while taking responsibility of the 2019 drubbing, had quit as president, advising his party to elect a non-Gandhi.
Sycophants fretting over their own future swung into the act, and after extensive persuasion brought back Sonia Gandhi. In sharp contrast to Baghel’s views on reinstalling Rahul, Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, stated on Saturday, that Sonia had, on her return, brought in some constructive and pragmatic changes. So far as choosing the next Congress president was concerned, the party’s systems were in place, and the appointment would be through the laid down process, he added. There has been intense speculation regarding the sibling rivalry between Rahul and Priyanka and despite giving up his position, Rahul has continued to monitor the party’s activities and appointments. He is understood to have admonished his sister as to why it was that in Uttar Pradesh—where she is the general secretary in-charge—his pictures are nowhere to be seen on the posters and hoardings at various places. Priyanka was further advised by her mother not to receive party workers at her residence in Lodi Estate, but instead meet them at Rahul’s house at Tughlak Lane.
Another point for disconcertment for Rahul was, that Pankaj Shankar, who was associated with the party for many years, had given an interview to a news channel where he was critical of the former Congress president. The interview was said to have been arranged by a close aide of his sister. Prior to the Maharashtra elections, Sonia Gandhi had favoured former Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, for the position of general secretary in-charge of the organisation in place of Rahul’s appointee, K.C. Venugopal, given that he had immense experience of the Congress. However, without mincing any words, she was bluntly told by Rahul that under no circumstances this should happen. The idea was abruptly dropped even though Shinde had been notified about the possible change. Later, during the negotiations between the Congress, Shiv Sena and the NCP, Rahul had informed the Congress president that any kind of association with a right wing party was going to be detrimental to the party’s interests in Kerala and elsewhere.
However, he was overruled, since the situation had become such that Congress MLAs were willing to switch sides for greener pastures. A former Chief Minister of the state apprised Sonia Gandhi that if nothing was left of the party in the Assembly, ideological considerations were inconsequential. She grasped the point and gave a go-ahead signal to her political adviser, Ahmed Patel. What has changed since Rahul vacated his position is that NCP chief Sharad Pawar has emerged stronger, becoming the nucleus of any future anti-BJP formation. He wields considerable influence over the leaders of the Congress breakaway groups, and is regarded in high esteem even within the grand old party. The fact of the matter is that after he prevented the BJP from forming a government in Maharashtra, Muslims have hailed him as someone in whom they could repose their full trust. Therefore, Rahul and his associates would have to be fully prepared to deal with Pawar, who over a period of time, may surface in even a stronger manner. In any case, in the Congress, it is rather rare that things happen by design, since most of the time, the changes occur by default. INAV