CONGRESS: CHURN AT THE TOP

India Today - - INSIDE - By Kaushik Deka

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

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