There is an old story that has been doing the rounds in Congress circles for the last few years. It goes like this: battered by many events in the country, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi went to Srinagar in the first week of October 1984. Here she was taken to a baba who reputedly had a knack for predicting the future correctly.
“What is in offing for me?" Indira asked the holy man. The baba pointed out a chinar tree which felled by a lightning strike was lying broken and could be seen from the window. “Your future would be like this,” the holy man indicated to Indira by signs.
Finding her a little crestfallen, the baba added: "your granddaughter will emulate you and one day be more popular than you.” Indira Gandhi was assassinated a few weeks later: October 31 the same year.
Coming Out Of Retirement
Sonia Gandhi was re-inducted as the Congress president a few days ago, a pall of gloom has descended over the party. Common sense is that a retired president – who laid down office because of bad health — cannot be expected to provide extra zing to the tottering party. “Well, this is an interim arrangement. There are elections in three states like Maharashtra in a few months. Congress is bound to perform badly. Sonia will take the flak and move out and then Priyanka will come,” predicted a Congressman, adding that ‘Sonia is an interim arrangement to provide cover to Priyanka.”
Since the Congress has become like a hereditary party the name of Priyanka automatically comes up once Rahul is not available.
But this is probably an ingenious argument to cover up the fact that no Congress leader worth the name had widespread acceptability across the board. Analysts said that it became a tussle between the old guard – who had ruled the roost under Sonia for two decades – and the new guard which wants to lead the party in the new era. “Rahul Gandhi who was running the party for the last few years quit the presidency after being worn out by the old guard who were challenging his new initiatives.
neta, Rahul lost interest after winning a mere 52 seats (out of 545) for the Congress in the last polls and just quit. Battle Of Ideas
From all accounts emerging it is the old guard that ensured that Sonia was back. According to authentic versions, Ghulam Nabi Azad proposed Sonia’s name after Rahul Gandhi made it clear unmistakably that he was not in a mood to come back. Azad was supported by the likes of P Chidambaram and AK Antony.
This put paid to the efforts by the young brigade in the party to push someone like Sachin Pilot or Jyotiraditya Scindia or Milind Deora. Earlier the old guard tried to force the issue by floating names of some Dalit leaders as possible presidents. This included the name of absolute non-entities like Mukul Wasnik and low-profile leaders like Sushil Kumar Shinde and Malikarjun Kharge who have little grassroots appeal.
The idea may have been to confuse the matter by floating names of Dalit leaders who are traditionally accorded a lot of respect – on paper at least – by the Congress bigwigs.
But the younger leaders are not amused. They find the old guard rather conservative and not in tune with the times. Scindia has already indicated that he is in support of the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 – which has been undertaken by the Modi government. Some other younger leaders are also in tune with — what they perceive — is the mood of the nation.
In fact, the Congress chief whip in Lok Sabha Bhubaneswar Kalita quit the party when the party opposed the government move in Kashmir. Outside Kashmir and liberal sections, most of India is in support of the Modi government move. But the old guard has a different view. Former home minister P Chidambaram has taunted the Modi government by alleging that the move was taken because Kashmir is a minority-dominated state. Such a measure could not have been taken in Hindu majority parts.
Former union minister Mani Shankar Aiyer has compared the situation in Kashmir to Israel. Analysts are clear that the old guard statements are with a view to ensure that the party does not move away from its so-called secular moorings.
But the younger leaders would rather have a more realistic point of view that is in line with the national mood. This would also check the BJP aggression. In fact, after Chidambaram’s and Aiyer’s statement, BJP spokesmen have been commenting that these views only strengthen the cause of the Pakistanis who have lapped up these statements and using it to show the differences within India.
Some younger Congress leaders also find fault with Ghulam Nabi Azad’s statement in Rajya Sabha the day Article 370 and Section 35A was abrogated. “What was the point of attacking the government move so vociferously? After all, he gets elected from outside Kashmir,” a Congress leader said on conditions of anonymity.
Such confusion – about what the policy of the Congress party should be – has been in the nature of how the outfit is run ever since the Gujarat riots of 2002. Many top leaders had at that time advised Sonia Gandhi to keep quiet because what was being witnessed (they perceived) was a public reaction to the Godhra train carnage. Therefore it would not make sense to attack the Modi state government because that would only alienate the public from the Congress party.
Sonia followed the advice, coming to grief in Gujarat, but the Congress won the national election and ruled for ten years. But Modi came to power in 2014 as it was perceived by the voters that the Congress party had metamorphosed into a party serving only minority interests.
Thus it is clear that for the Congress – more than the leader who will lead – it’s an issue of the right perspective. Once the perspective is set and agreed upon, the party should promote a robust leader who can lead it into the future without getting browbeaten by the BJP and becoming its B team. But does the party have such a leader? Or can Priyanka metamorphose into such a leader? That’s the million-dollar question for which there are no easy answers.
Kingshuk Nag is a senior journalist and author.