Any Delay in Taking a Final Call will Make or Mar Gandhi Parivar and Congress Party
This is an open letter written with an open mind for an open mind. Everyone is fully aware that the Gandhi Parivar is passing through testing times. For a party, triumphs and defeat are cyclical. You win some, you lose some. But over the past few months, the winning record of the Congress has been abysmal. It is perceived as a family-owned outfit passing through an agonising rhythm of fluctuating fortunes. The absence of your party’s vice-president Rahul Gandhi—who also happens to be your son—from the cloak and dagger drama of the capital’s politics must be painful. Undoubtedly, he has the right to take a break from gruelling political acrobatics and spend quality time on aerobics with nature at an undisclosed, sylvan spot. Rahul is known for his frugal habits and obsession with health gadgets. But even his staunchest admirers feel that his sabbatical is not only badly-timed but is also bad news for the much-mauled party. I’m sure he would have taken your permission, and as the Congress President, you would have reluctantly given it so that he can reflect on the present and ponder over his past actions which led to the total rout of the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the recent Delhi Assembly elections. While Rahul is engaged in vipasanna and introspection, you are confined to 10 Janpath to plan a strategy for a rejuvenated Rahul when he returns home next week. Will you pass on the baton to him, yielding to his conditions? Or will you carry on with the old leadership? The party is waiting impatiently for an answer.
Now the Congress has reached a terminal stage where any call taken by you can either remake it or let it die a natural death. The party is at war with itself. Various leaders are speaking in different voices. It is not a new experience for you. Whenever your party suffers a massive defeat, a section of its leadership gets impatient and seeks a scapegoat. They also find excuses to desert. It happened in 1969, 1989 and 1995. While individuals vanished, the party survived due to sudden rise of another Gandhi. Indira Gandhi survived the Syndicate’s machinations and created a new Indira Congress. In 1977, when the Congress lost the General Elections, many stalwarts left Indira and her son Sanjay Gandhi to fight the might of Janata Party government. Both of them took to the streets. Indira was sent to jail and Sanjay faced a lathi-charge. The Congress was back in power 30 months later.
In the early Nineties, your loyalists saw you as the password to victory. They first ejected Narasimha Rao and then Sitaram Kesari, and installed you as the Congress president. The party lost the first election fought under you in 1999. But you didn’t feel tired or wanted to retire. Instead, you brought many Congressmen who had once humiliated you back into the party fold. You decided to compromise on your Gandhian-Nehruvian ego and forge strategic alliances with your political foes. In 2004, the party threw the Shining India campaign into darkness and was back in Raisina Hill. Five years later, it won 206 seats, more than your late husband Rajiv Gandhi’s tally in 1989.
In 2004, you decided to politically baptise Rahul. Your intent was clear. Once you retired, the Congress couldn’t be left in the hands of any non-Gandhi. You were clear that the party needed a new face with a new message for the future. Rahul was projected as Mr Clean with a modern mind. He would build a party for the future, minus ideological baggage. In the past decade, however, he hasn’t shown any inclination to reinvent the party. Even Congress workers are confused about his philosophy and mission. He is seen as a young man without a mantra. On the other hand, if senior Congress leaders hold the reins, Rahul will be just a titular head without power. Like an obedient son, he stayed away from taking decisions on issues in your domain. The state of the party today is like a royal regime in which son differs with but would never defy his monarch-parent. The palace tremors, however, are being felt in the entire party, which feels that you both have diminished the party beyond redemption. Some feel that it is vertically divided between a small and young Rahul Congress and a top-heavy jaded Sonia Congress. The only positive factor in this factionalism is that your authority is acceptable to all. A battle, however, is raging between those who are unwilling to give up their perches and those who want to take over because their future lies in the success and survival of the 129-year-old party. Rahul has definitely failed to enthuse workers and voters. His unorthodox campaign style and vanishing tricks have raised questions about his ability to lead and keep the party together. While the sell-by date of the Congress is over, the idea of the Congress survives. You will find a person carrying a Congress flag in almost every Indian village. But you will hardly find a credible leader in more than 70 per cent of the over 600 districts of India. The Congress exists nationally, but has vanished locally. It is time for you take the final call. You can either follow the tried and tested Indian tradition of handing over the business to the heir and spending a peaceful life thereafter, or you can take charge once again, discharging your son of all political responsibilities. Any delay will make both the Gandhi Parivar and the Congress party irrelevant.
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