Suddenly there is clamour in the media for Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi to surrender the political space they occupy in the Congress party. They are said to be politcally naïve for “obsessively” attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and are advised to give up their ‘entitled recklessness’. Some media pundits have urged Rahul Gandhi to desist from ‘puerile tactics’ and criticised him for displaying ‘stubborn cussedness and a lack of political awareness’.
This is pretty caustic coming from a position ostensibly itself opposed to the majoritarian Hindutva politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But such critics would do well to remember that the personality of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his acolytes is not distinguishable from the politics they articulate.
Rahul Gandhi Versus the Congress ‘Old Guard’
The criticism of the Gandhi siblings voices the concern of the so-called ‘Old Guard’ within the Congress party. Having been the past of the Congress, they also want to be its future. This public attack on Rahul Gandhi comes at a time when his return as Congress president seems imminent. Most of the Old Guard are over 75-years of age. Once the younger Gandhi siblings take over, their future is sealed. Rahul Gandhi has made no bones about removing deadwood to create a new party structure. Whether his vision turns out to be flawed or not is for the future to judge.
- The criticism of the Gandhi siblings voices the concern of the so-called ‘Old Guard’ within the Congress party.
- Having been the past of the Congress, they also want to be its future.
- Attempts to keep Rahul and Priyanka at bay essentially camouflage their own survival strategy.
- Why should upfront criticism of Prime Minister Modi on migrant crisis or national security issues be termed political naivete?
- The strategy of non-confrontation that the Old Guard is advocating will not lead to the revitalisation of the Congress.
- How good or bad Rahul Gandhi is as a general will depend on how good his army is.
The Gandhi siblings have been consistent in attacking the Old Guard for avoiding responsibility for the party’s general election defeat and leaving them to do the heavy lifting. Now they are being publicly advised to avoid any criticism of Prime Minister Modi – in effect, commit political suicide and leave the political field unchallenged for the BJP.
Those fighting a rear-guard action against Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi are not simply a collection of individuals. They are an interest group with political and financial stakes in controlling the party.
The difficulties some of them have faced from the Enforcement Directorate indicate that when in power, they leveraged their positions in the party and the government to further their own interests and that of their kin. Any hint of political irrelevance will make it difficult for them to rally the party rank and file and dub action against themselves as a ‘political’ witch-hunt. Attempts to keep Rahul and Priyanka at bay essentially camouflage their own survival strategy.
What Has the Old Guard Achieved, After All?
It is unclear how exactly the Old Guard thinks criticism through the media might save it. None has a popular support base. Despite long stints in Parliament and in the government, not one of them has successfully put down roots in the states they represent. Nevertheless they have held the Congress captive. Success is attributed to their political skills and scapegoats are found for the party’s electoral failures. Some rose in the party hierarchy merely because of their secretarial skill in drafting statements, others because of their oratorical ability and in one odd case because she spoke Italian.
Hardly any got there because of a wildly popular electoral victory. In fact, most of them do not contest Lok Sabha elections. They have thrived on party largesse – and been repeatedly accommodated in the Rajya Sabha.
It is unclear why upfront criticism of Prime Minister Modi on creating the migrant crisis and inability to deal with it, or national security issues, should be termed political naivete. To say that criticising the BJP for fusing Indian nationalism with Hindutva is reckless is to forget the emergence of National Socialism in inter-War Germany. Every secular Indian should in fact draw on their Constitutionally “entitled recklessness” to oppose this.
Why Is Old Guard Advocating For ‘Non-Confrontation’?
Those attacking Rahul Gandhi for not attending the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence should enquire whether this government shares any relevant information in that forum and whether his attendance would have prevented Chinese ingress into Ladakh. The BJP removed its own veteran MP, Major General (Retd) B C Khanduri from chairmanship of the committee for raising questions about defence preparedness.
Why should the Opposition not ask whether the Chinese made any incursions into Indian Territory in Ladakh? And why should the Congress not question the celebration of Chinese promise to withdraw 2 kms from current positions in the Galwan valley as a victory? After all, the government claimed earlier there were no incursions. Why is India the first country to create a “Buffer Zone” on its own territory to buy peace with an aggressive neighbour?
The strategy of non-confrontation that the Old Guard is advocating will not lead to a recovery of democratic Opposition in the country or to the revitalisation of the Congress. Further, those who destroyed all vestiges of democracy in the party and hollowed out its institutions cannot be trusted to oversee its reconstruction.
Congress Needs to Fix Party Institutions, Not Rahul Gandhi
The real issue that the Congress party must urgently address is to revive party institutions – from booth level to the All India Congress Committee. Unless these institutions are activated, made vibrant and meet regularly, there cannot even be an accountable discussion of the party’s performance. Where will Congressmen air their opinions when the AICC does not meet regularly—the party Constitution mandates six monthly meetings but there is often not even an annual meeting?
The Congress Working Committee meets sporadically and Pradesh Congress Committees and the Block level units exist virtually on paper. Like the Old Guard is doing today, they will be forced to speak through proxies in the media.
It is in these forums that the plans for the party’s revitalisation have to be discussed and new talent identified to counter cronyism. How good or bad Rahul Gandhi is as a general will depend on how good his army is. The Old Guard wants to keep all the command positions with no army, no weapons and no ammunition. And it seems keen to block anyone else from trying to put together the required wherewithal either.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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