Analysis Cong United on Gandhis, Divided on Growth Path
Even as the Congress brass got into a huddle to debate what went wrong in UPA’s second innings and how to reposition the party, senior leaders have made one thing clear: the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi is non-negotiable. There are broadly two schools of thought among senior leaders, interactions with Congress leaders show. While one group blames policy paralysis that they say worsened the economic slowdown and attracted the wrath of the middleclass and youth, the other group says it was the going back on welfare programmes which led to the downfall. The Congress Working Committee has authorised party chief Sonia Gandhi to take “all the necessary remedial steps”, which sources say may prompt her to soon constitute a high-profile panel to formally analyse the reasons for the defeat and prescribe the road-map ahead. Top leaders are already united on deflecting any blame directed at the Gandhi family. “Under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, the Congress will move forward and stage a comeback,” AK Antony told a group of journalists a few days ago, just as some second- or third-rung leaders indulged in post-defeat rumblings. “There is no move within the party against Rahul Gandhi. He is the one who has campaigned and worked hard maximum for the party across the country. As for the defeat, it is a matter of collective responsibility,” the former defence minister said.
Digvijaya Singh backed the view. “It is Sonia who united the Congress and led us to two consecutive LS poll victories,”hesaid,whileasserting“thereis nodisconnectbetweenRahulandsenior Congress leaders”. While the leaders review the party’s election performance, the two con- trasting views on what led to the defeat are likely to be debated in detail. Some ministers in the UPA-1 and UPA-2 feel that more than corruption al l e g at i ons t hat pl a gued t he Manmohan Singh government and inflation, slow decision-making on reforms and pushing more and more welfareschemesatthecostof boosting growth and jobs had angered the middleclass,aspirationalyouthandurban centers, something that Narendra Modi tapped clinically. “It was the impression that the UPA was not in tune with the new India that has hurt us maximum,” said a former Congress minister. Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Kapil Sibal, Murli Deora, Kamal Nath and Veerappa Moily are seen in the party circles as the advocates of speedy economic reforms. Antony, Digvijaya, Vayalar Ravi, Ashok Gehlot, Tar un Gogoi, Siddaramaiah, Mallikarjun Kharge and Mohan Gopal are among the leaders other than the two Gandhis who are perceived to be more propoor than pro-business. “Payment under (employment guarantee programme) MNREGA has been left pending. The right-tofood scheme could never take off, leaving our traditional supporters among poor, feeling let down amid inflation and frequent hikes in diesel prices,” said a senior leader. So, Sonia’s speech on Jawaharlal Nehru’s death anniversary when she asserted the Congress’ adherence to Nehruvian socialism, further ignited the in-house debate. She said “at the core of Nehru’s socialism was the conviction that in a land of extreme poverty and inequality, the objective of government must be the welfare of poorest … Today, we refer to this as inclusive growth … We remain profoundly wedded to Nehru’s concern for the weakest sections of our society.” A leader said this indicated a new be ginning. Under Manmohan Singh, the dominant economic mantra of the government was the continuation of what star ted by Narasimha Rao, this leader said. The left-of-the-centre Congress group feels that, post-defeat, the party has no option to move right. “This time, RSS propelled the BJP victory. Two UPA statements, that the first right on resources would be for minorities and that the government woul d c r a c k d own o n Hindutva terror, have made RSS go all-out against the Congress. So, the BJP victory also leaves no further scope for the Congress to move right of the centre,” argued a leader. The BJP will treat its victory, some leaders said, as a victory of the Gujarat model – pro-rich and proindustry and, more importantly, proHindu. Therefore party leaders feel the Congress may now have to position to appeal to the poor and lower middleclass,. cutting across caste