Who's in charge of Congress? For the first time, questions on whether Gandhis will continue to lead party arise

Srinivasa Prasad
The solution to save the Congress lies in de-commercialising the party and making it a true political entity. The mammothness of such a task is possibly beyond the skills of Rahul and Priyanka.

Ask a worker of either the BJP or the CPM about his ideology. That's easy. You'll hear words like 'Hindu', 'national' or 'pseudo-secularism' and so on from the former and 'Marx' 'bourgeois', 'neo-colonialism' and the like from the latter.

Meet some Congress busybodies and try to find what ideology drives them. It's tough. It's like, as they say, trying to squeeze honey out of mud. You will probably hear them fumble with words like 'country', 'people' and 'poverty'.

Next, try to find what drives their politics. That's easy. The answer simply is Congress. Never mind what Congress stands for, even if it does. And it doesn't. For them, the Congress means just two things €" it's a brand that can sell, though not guaranteed these days, and its USP is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Besides being a selling point, the dynasty serves another purpose. The absence of an ideology, which died along with Jawaharlal Nehru, meant that only the brand equity and family ownership of the party could stop its leaders from going for each other's throats. And the absence of the dynasty could lead to the disappearance of the party itself and, along with it, the very purpose of the politics for Congressmen.

This explains the deafening roar from Congress leaders beseeching Rahul Gandhi to stay on as the party president. It's not because they see him as a beacon of light in their political wilderness. It's certainly not because of their love for him. It's because of their love for themselves. They want to cling to the Congress. And they want Rahul to cling to his post. Without him, they have no party. Without the party, they have no politics, no dreams of red beacons on car roofs and no black lucre that goes with power.

It's easy to see that after Nehru, the Congress reduced itself to being a franchise enterprise like McDonalds or KFC, licensing power-brokers to use the family name, which they see as a low-investment, high-return proposition to procure power. The brand is hugely less popular now, but the hope of some investors for better future lingers on.

For the first time since Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, the comprehensive beating in the Lok Sabha election has raised questions over whether the family will continue to own the party. But now, there are questions about these questions.

Nearly three weeks after it was made known that Rahul intended to resign as the Congress chief and the party's working committee had "unanimously" rejected it, mum is the word from the dynast. He has apparently almost stopped meeting leaders and, if reports are to be believed, is in London, angry with either the party or himself, or just sulking in general.

Thanksgiving or faultfinding?

Rahul blamed his party leaders for the mess, not himself. That left us wondering whether the family believes the party workers were at least fine. So his sister Priyanaka Gandhi Vadra volunteered to remove that doubt by damning the party cadres, as well.

"I will find out the names of workers who didn't work for the party in the elections," she thundered on Thursday, sounding like a teacher warning students that she would find out the names of students who stuck chewing gum on her chair.

Never mind that Priyanka made the speech in Rae Bareli, which elected her mother, at an event meant for thanksgiving, which she duly turned into faultfinding. Listen to her carefully, and you won't miss the tone of ownership, not leadership.

In one swell stroke, she also demolished all hope that she would be the final redeemer of the party, or a female edition of a knight in shining armour, or a true heiress of her very tough grandmother Indira Gandhi, better than even her brother. Listen to her even more carefully, and a suspicion begins to nag €" does the fact that she is threatening action against workers mean that she herself, if not Rahul, would like to continue to helm (or own) the party?

Even as this hair-pulling continues over whether Rahul would return to the throne, which he has half-abdicated, and whether there should be a working president or an interim one or some sort of a decision-making body, in the mean time comes a puzzling gem of enlightenment from spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala.

"Rahulji was, is and will remain the Congress president, and we have no doubt about it," Surjewala said, without batting an eyelid.

Goonga kathaputalee?

When Indira became prime minister in 1966, leaders who controlled the Congress at that time hoped she would turn into a goongi gudia (a dumb doll). She didn't. She became an Iron Lady. When Rahul took over the Congress in 2017, leaders who surrounded him hoped he would become their goonga kathaputalee (a dumb puppet). He did. That's when the party began to hit the road to hara-kiri (chaos).

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, Rahul may be clean with clean intentions, though the same benefit of doubt can't be extended to his father or grandmother. What's in question is the ability to lead. In case he, or his sister, or both want to stay in control, what they must know is that saving the Congress from extinction calls for more than reshuffling office-bearers or ordering knee-jerk inquiries whose results are predictable.

The problems are more fundamental. The solution lies in de-commercialising the party and making it a true political entity. The mammothness of such a task is possibly beyond the skills of the brother and sister, and that's something they must straighten out first. It's not the job of the leaders and workers they are blaming. Or they must leave the Congress, leaving it to fight for the little chance it has of surviving without the family.

The author tweets @sprasadindia

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