Cong Dilemma Over Gand­his Amid Buzz of Dis­sent

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics - URMI GOSWAMI

“I don’t see her tak­ing cen­tre stage. First, RG is not go­ing any­where. Sec­ond, the Vadra is­sue is a big prob­lem... Party peo­ple see Robert Vadra as an in­ter­loper who now has be­come a mill­stone around

the party’s neck” Congress lead­ers have struck notes of a fa­mil­iar cho­rus aimed at ring-fencing party V-P and Nehru-Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi from crit­i­cism over the party’s widely fore­cast drub­bing in the re­cently held gen­eral elec­tions.

Even be­fore the votes are counted on May 16, sev­eral lead­ers have sought to in­su­late Gandhi and shift blame to the out­go­ing Man­mo­han Singh-led govern­ment, un­der­scor­ing the Congress’ con­tin­ued de­pen­dence on its first fam­ily even as mur­murs of dis­con­tent are grow­ing within its ranks over the per­for­manceof par­ty­chief So­ni­aGandhi and her son and po­lit­i­cal heir Rahul.

The Congress took care to re­frain from for­mally an­nounc­ing Rahul Gandhi as its PM can­di­date, a con­certed at­tempt to keep the ri­val BJP from turn­ing the elec­tions into a di­rect con­test with its nom­i­nee Naren­dra Modi. That did not stop Modi, though, from train­ing his cam­paign fire at not just Rahul but also his mother So­nia, sis­ter Priyanka and even his brother-in-law Robert Vadra, who has been ac­cused of wrong­do­ing in a clutch of land deals.

With most of the exit polls pre­dict­ing the worst per­for­mance ever by the Congress,par­ty­work­er­sare­al­so­more will­ing than ever to speak their mind on Rahul, but off the record. Many say he ap­pears dis­tant and un­con­nected, as some­one who would rather in­ter­act with his num­ber crunch­ing “man­age­ment” group of ad­vis­ers than party work­ers. “He is al­ways on his phone or fid­dling with it, giv­ing the im­pres­sion that he wants to be some­where else,” a party leader said. A mid-level Congress func­tionary, who has served the party since the 1980s, is even more blunt as he says Rahul has “wasted” 10 years (he was first elected to LS in 2004), “de­stroyed” the Youth Congress and the party’s stu­dent wing NSUI in the name of in­ner-party democ­racy. “He vir­tu­ally cut out ev­ery se­nior leader, his team has no se­nior lead­ers andthat­didn’twork­out­toow­ell­forthe party,” the party func­tionary added.

Such Congress mem­bers ar­gue that Rahul’sstyleof func­tioningisjust­part of the gen­er­a­tional change. Oth­ers, how­ever, point out that this is not the first in­stance of gen­er­a­tional change in the party. “When San­jay Gandhi took over as a party func­tionary his mother was party pres­i­dent and PM. He also got new peo­ple into the party but did not break up the ex­ist­ing setup,” said an old-timer in the party. The sense of im­pend­ing po­lit­i­cal loss has also led Congress mem­bers to yearn for an ac­tive po­lit­i­cal role of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who ap­peared to do a bet­ter job of at­tract­ing me­dia at­ten­tion when she hit back at Modi­while­cam­paigninginthe­fam­ily bor­oughs of Rae Bareli and Ame­thi. “Un­like RG, she is not al­ways on the phone or giv­ing the im­pres­sion that she would rather play with her phone than lis­ten and talk to you,” said a Congress leader from UP.

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