Cong Dilemma Over Gandhis Amid Buzz of Dissent
“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.