Ignoring Cadre, Reliance on Legal Eagles: What Rahul Gandhi Must Not Repeat if He Returns as Cong Chief

Rasheed Kidwai
·4-min read

The absence of listening to own cadre, is perhaps the single most important factor for party’s steady decline.

AICC interim chief Sonia Gandhi’s web interaction with her party’s Rajya Sabha MPs has brought in focus a vicious power struggle within the grand old party. There are several takeaways:

• Sonia Gandhi wants to pass on the baton urgently.

• Rahul Gandhi is ready to return as AICC president but he would want to have ‘Team Rahul’ in key places.

• The old guard has pockets of influence within the Congress.

• In-house lawyers are influencing decision-making.

• Party is craving for change and some semblance of inner-party democracy.

• A majority of Congress leaders want Sonia’s successor to initiate a process to hold the Congress Working Committee (CWC) elections so that at least a political hierarchy among non-Nehru Gandhi family members is established and adhered to.

A back to basics approach is required. It is an open fact that Congress leaders are unwilling to acknowledge that Sonia’s continuation has become a liability as every decision that Rahul contemplates to take, old guard seeks refuge in Sonia veto.

If Rahul can muster the courage to openly return as party president, he needs to announce party polls for Congress Working Committee and other levels of hierarchy so that proximity to the high command gets a tag of democratic credentials. There is a provision of a 10-member parliamentary board where many veteran leaders (old guard) can be packed off for ceremonial advisory role.

The new party president as needs to hear voices from the ground rather than going for releasing videos or interviewing domain experts like Raghuram Rajan, Abhijit Banerjee and Mohammad Yunus as some sort of settling of scores. The Congress under Sonia-Rahul can go on claiming to be a democratic party, but it has stopped listening to its own cadres. Sample the party’s stand on Article 370, triple talaq, the RCEP agreement, CAA-NRC, Golwan valley standoff and other key issues. There were murmurs and noises seeking more nuanced approach but Rahul and Sonia enforced their views instead of paying attention to what district or state level party delegates had to say. The absence of listening to own cadre, is perhaps the single most important factor for party’s steady decline.

Strange as it may sound, the Congress has not held an All India Congress Committee (AICC) session since March 2018. As per the Congress constitution, it is mandatory to meet at least once, preferably twice. The story of AICC media department is more bizarre. The Congress has not changed its head since 2014 although it keeps complaining that its communication strategy is weak.

If not listening to party rank and file is a significant factor for Congress decline, reliance on legal eagles is another recipe for disaster. Since UPA-2 period, the Congress has been giving extraordinary weightage to the legal opinion on all political matters from 2G, Commonwealth scam allegations to recent Rajasthan crisis. Messrs Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, P Chidambaram, Vivek Tankha, Salman Khurshid, Anand Sharma and others may be erudite and excellent at marshalling arguments, but their success in electoral politics has not been inspirational. Moreover, unlike politics, the very nature of legal profession puts little accountability on the final outcome or consequences for the client. In this case, the Congress and its sympathisers have been the biggest losers.

I remember late R K Dhawan repeatedly asserting that Indira, during the difficult times prior to Emergency was not inclined to declare Emergency. The political aide claimed that it was thrust upon her by legal luminaries such as Sidharatha Shankar Ray, Barrister Rajni Patel, A R Antulay and H R Gokhale, the then law minister. From Indira to Rajiv, Sonia and Rahul, their constant expression of regret for the Emergency in public has cut little ice.

Gokhale had also messed the recruitment and supersession of judges, leading to a general discontent of judiciary against the Congress regime.

Cut to Sonia era. Upset over Subramaniam Swamy’s constant criticism, Sonia had consulted in-house lawyers who readily advised filing of defamation against Swamy, currently BJP MP. When some paper work was reportedly underway, a family friend urged her to reconsider the move. Heeding to the former editor’s advice, Sonia reportedly turned to same set of lawyers who sheepishly told her about the lengthy procedure of filing defamation that stipulates a person who files the defamation, to depose and get exposed to all sorts of crazy and often nasty things. The idea was dropped.

Tailpiece: When Rajiv Gandhi appointed Bindeshwari Dubey as union law minister, Dubey’s first reaction was, “Rajiv Gandhi is okay and I hope he knows I am not even a law graduate!”

The author is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal.