CONGRESS: CHURN AT THE TOP
Rahul Gandhi’s confirmation on Twitter that he was no longer the Congress president and would not take part in the selection of his successor has pushed the party into further chaos as it witnesses a tug-of-war between the veterans and younger leaders. With the Congress Working Committee (CWC) expected to select the next president by end July—a provisional arrangement till a Congress plenary ratifies the selection—lobbying for the coveted chair has started even as several leaders have
opted out of the race.
On July 6, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh posted a sensational tweet, asking for the party’s leadership to be vested in someone ‘young’. Many assumed he was hinting at giving the charge to Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, who is close to Singh. Pilot spent five years working on the ground and, last December, led the party to victory in Rajasthan. Pilot’s elevation to the top post will also bring an end to his power tussle with Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot. However, a senior CWC member, who spoke to Amarinder after the tweet, claimed he was referring to a leader in his 60s. Another senior leader from Haryana suggested Singh was batting for 53-year-old Manish Tewari.
The next day, Milind Deora, president of the Congress in Mumbai, and Jyotiraditya Scindia, general secretary in-charge of western Uttar Pradesh, resigned. Deora even said he was getting ready for a national post. Several young leaders say privately that Rahul had resigned expecting that all
senior AICC (All India Congress Committee) leaders responsible for the party’s disastrous performance in the Lok Sabha would follow suit, paving the way for the induction of fresh faces. At the CWC meeting on May 25, Rahul even admonished Gehlot, Kamal Nath and P. Chidambaram for pressuring the party to give tickets to their sons. Despite Rahul’s open criticism, and, as one Congress MP said, his hope that leaders would take moral responsibility, no one from the old guard resigned.
According to a CWC member, Deora is eyeing the post of treasurer, though it’s unlikely Sonia Gandhi will let it slip away from the hands of her trusted aide Ahmed Patel. Many in the young brigade see Patel as the lifeline of the old guard because of his proximity to Sonia and influence as Congress treasurer. The CWC member says Scindia has a bright chance of emerging as a consensus presidential candidate. “The veterans may agree, but Sonia Gandhi would not like a contemporary of Rahul to hold the top post,” he says.
With an average age of 67, most senior CWC members prefer a low-profile veteran as president to avoid a repeat of 1991, when P.V. Narasimha Rao was selected for the post on the assumption that a leader in his fading years would remain submissive, allowing the veterans to control the party till a Gandhi family member was ready to take charge. But Rao soon took firm control of the party and the government and sidelined several veterans. His tenure saw splits in the party and the departure of heavyweights Madhavrao Scindia, Arjun Singh and N.D. Tiwari. After the Congress’s defeat in the 1996 general election, treasurer Sitaram Kesri was elected president. He was unceremoniously removed once Sonia decided to join politics and took charge of the party in 1998. Ever since, the Congress presidency has stayed with the Gandhis, with Rahul taking over as recently as in December 2017.
Like in 1991, Patel is leading the process of selecting the new president. Some veterans preferred Gehlot, but he refused. Former Union minister Mukul Wasnik, a potential compromise candidate, will turn 70 in September. Under these circumstances, one option could be to have a veteran as the provisional president and several young vice-presidents holding independent charge of regions or organisational wings. A provisional president who remains accountable to a core committee chosen by the CWC is another possibility, but that would require changes in the party constitution. The final decision will rest with Sonia. And going by her past record, she will most likely choose loyalty over performance.
Ultimately, the decision will rest with Sonia, who is likely to choose loyalty over performance
FOLLOW THE LEADER Congress chief ministers leave after a meeting with Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi on July 1