Congress needs make over to energise: TR Ramachandran

With Rahul Gandhi seemingly disinterested in being the president of the Congress party while continuing to be its spearhead during assembly or general elections is adversely affecting the party.

A case in point is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP's forceful campaigner secured a second successive term at the Centre earlier this year having crossed the rubicon of 300 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha for the first time. Along with its allies the BJP-led NDA managed a shade more than 350 seats. No mean achievement this by any reckoning.

At the same time the BJP suffered a major setback in the assembly elections in Maharashtra recently with its main ally for more than three decades, the Shiv Sena, ditching them to form the government in Mumbai, the country's financial capital. The main reason pertained to the Shiv Sena becoming the chief minister. The BJP refused to accomodate them in this regard being the single largest party in the assembly but lacking a simple majority. 

Old war horse Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress party decided to back the Shiv Sena and its supremo Udhhav Thackeray along with the Congress which went ahead despite strong reservations. The non-BJP opposition found ways of keeping the saffron brigade at bay. BJP refused to play ball with its oldest ally - the Shiv Sena - keenly eyeing the chief minister's post for the first time. Grabbing the opportunity, Pawar remained in the vanguard in roping in the Congress and propping up a Shiv Sena chief minister along with hammering out a common minimum programme.

Be that as it may, the Congress is explicably dragging its feet in holding elections for the office of party president and the Congress Working Committee, the highest decision making body of the party, on one flimsy pretext or another. At the same time what assumes significance is that Rahul Gandhi's mother Sonia Gandhi is keen to step down. The twin power centre of mother and son for nearly two years has left much to be desired.

Then, questions began doing the rounds about Rahul's acceptability in the higher echelons of the All India Congress Committee and the people at large. His repeated attacks accusing the Prime Minister as "Chowkidar chor hai" failed to evoke the desired response from the electorate. In the circumstances senior Congressmen are persuading Sonia to shelve calling it a day just yet. On his part Rahul is reluctant to become Congress president having failed to make an impact on the masses at the hustings. If Rahul throws his hat in the ring, his triumph as AICC president is assured. Given their ilk Congressmen will refrain from contesting against Rahul for obvious reasons. It is apparent the think tank is buying time hoping that Rahul will change his mind ultimately. Be that as it may, they want Sonia Gandhi to remain in a key position. The question is what if Rahul remains adamant in shunning the post of Congress president and for how long.

Senior Congressmen insist though they are for Rahul to helm the affairs of the Old Lady of Bori Bunder, they have a mischievous glint in their eyes wondering the kind of contest that can take place in case the member of the Gandhi clan does not contest. At the same time being hardcore dynasts they find it difficult to digest the criticism in this regard.

Nevertheless, they emphasise having two power centres in the party can complicate matters, affecting accountability. At the same time they are unlikely to easily throw in the towel in efforts to have Rahul as the numero uno of the Congress party. They take strong exception to criticism of dynasty maintaining that the Jawaharlal Nehru-Indira Gandhi-Rajiv Gandhi dynasty has rendered great service to the country and two of them, Indira Gandhi and her elder son Rajiv, have been martyred.

Inexplicably, the thinking in the Sonia and Rahul camps have been different inevitably leading to certain aberrations. Another factor having a bearing is that Rahul has lost the family held Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh to Smriti Irani, a minister in the Modi government, during this year's general elections. This has been a major blow. Clearly, the people of Amethi were not enthused by Rahul.

Fearing a loss in Amethi, he contested from Wayanad in Kerala and won that seat. One wonders if the hurly burly of politics which is a 24X7 job is Rahul's calling. He has not been regular in Parliament and is frequently away abroad which gives the impression that his interests lay elsewhere. Or is that so. He has failed to gain the trust of the people. His sweeping allegations against Modi in the run up to the general elections remained unconvincing. His campaign did him in failing to make an impact on the electorate.

What has come to the fore, time and again, is that nothing unites Congressmen more than the sight of electoral victory while political wilderness leads to intense bickering among its rank and file. At the same time there have been Congress presidents outside the dynasty. There is a strong case for holding free and fair elections to the Congress Working Committee as early as possible.

This might pep up the oldest political entity in the country providing the requisite shot in the arm. The dynasty factor is losing its sheen. It is, therefore, time the Congress elects a party president catapulting a non-Gandhi to the post having the capability and drive to turn the tide.

It has also become imperative for the party to provide a vision for the future strengthening unity, nationalism and secularism reflecting the aspirations of the people. The million dollar question is can the Congress ressurrect itself requiring out of the box thinking!

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator.

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