Dr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao
The recently concluded Congress Working Committee (CWC) has made quite a few things clear. First, the Nehru dynasty is not ready to give up the control of the party. Second it will be Rahul Gandhi who will be the next President despite his earlier statement that “it is time for non-Nehru family member to lead the party”. Third anyone who opposes those first two things have no place in the party and they may be sent out if they oppose Rahul Gandhi. The way Priyanka Vadra is involved in the party decisions, the way she is praised for the lead she has taken in the Uttar Pradesh party matters it is clear that the third member from the family have to be accepted as the hereditary leader and the decision maker.
Congress is at cross roads. When it was at its peak in Indira Gandhi time, there is no party to oppose her with confidence. It took almost two decades for the BJP to grow as a party and throw a challenge to Congress in the post Indira era. When the party was taken over by the dynasty again in 1998 Congress was in power for a decade, though it was not in its own strength but through a right combination of winning regional parties in UPA. Sonia Gandhi lorded over the party and PMO but it has not focused on regaining the lost space in main states of UP and Bihar. Its influence further shrank because of corruption in UPA rule. The loss 2014 elections under Sonia leadership and 2019 elections under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership has pushed the Congress to desperation despite its temporary gains in 2018 assembly elections in Chattisghad, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. Its attempt to have coalition it Karnataka failed. The Maharashtra coalition is shattering and its alliance with RJD in Bihar is on the verge of break. TMC, TRS, YSRCP, the other regional parties in power are not ready to join hands with Congress. SP, BSP have moved away from Congress.
Congress is in such dire stressed situation after its loss of face in 2021 assembly elections is looking for a miraculous way to sail it out of troubled political waters. With internal dissent growing the party think tank is looking for a new idea but unfortunately they got only old and 1969 successful model of Indira Gandhi.
Indira Gandhi has built up a political vote banks of SCs and STs and Muslims through pampering schemes but retained the leadership in forward castes. Indira Gandhi directly appealed to the women voters through her feminine charm and compassionate concern exhibited towards women. That was a huge un-breach able vote bank. All those vote banks were weaned away by the regional parties in the post liberalization era. SC and ST communities moved to BSP, Muslims moved to regional outfits like SP, RJD, TMC and upper castes became the strong supporters of BJP. Getting back those deserted groups is the big task for Congress. The recent announcement by Priyanka Wadra about 40% of Congress tickets for women in UP elections is aimed at that. It is with an aim on SC vote bank the Congress nominated a SC to the CM post of Punjab and promised to nominate CM from the same community in Uttarakhan if voted to power. To get the forward castes back into its fold the ‘soft Hindutva’ card is played. Only change from Indira Gandhi model is not wooing Muslims as party leaders feel that such a wooing will hurt their soft Hindutva image. Roping in of Kanhaya Kumar from CPI and Jignesh Mevani and Chandrasekhar Azad from SC communities is another attempt.
The only thing left in Indira Gandhi model is the ideological shift it has to give. That is possible if the party is willfully split to suit Rahul Gandhi’s coronation. The situation in which Rahul Gandhi is in now is similar to Indira Gandhi was in 1969. The difference being she was the PM and party president then and Rahul Gandhi is in control of the party only. Then Indira Gandhi faced opposition in the party from senior leaders like Morarji Desai, Kamaraj Nadar, Nijalingappa, Sanjiva Reddy just as G 23 are questioning the competency of Rahul Gandhi leadership. Indira was helped by her Kashmir Pandit lobby to effect the split in party on the ideological lines. It was a successful move to get rid of the old guard. The then seniors were labelled as ‘reactionary’, ‘pro rich syndicate’ and Indira was projected as progressive, pro-poor substantiated that image through the nationalization of the banks and offering loans to the poor liberally. Socialism which was till then the slogan of the Communists were hijacked by Indira Gandhi and buttress her image the Left leaning politicians like Kumarmangalam, Raghunadh Reddy were roped in besides the Young Turk group within the party like Chandrasekhar, Krishna Kanth. It was this ideological coupe which gave Indira Gandhi to recover the political image and score a stunning victory in 1971 using the ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan. Even the senior CPI leaders like SA Dange, Chandra Rajeswara Rao has fallen prey to the guiles of Indira Gandhi.
This model of generational shift in the leadership by throwing away the seniors is underway in the Congress party to project Rahul Gandhi is an ideologically progressive leader. The recent indirect warning from Sonia Gandhi to the G 23 leaders may be the indicative of the things coming in future. Gulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal and other seniors may be projected as the ‘speed breakers’ to the party’s run which Rahul Gandhi is has taken up. The pro-poor image of the party is going to be built up by proposed protests on the petrol prices and prices of essential commodities, corona deaths, migrant labour problems and the negative rankings for India which came in the international level on the hunger scale, poverty issues from institutes. Those findings showed India behind Pakistan, Sri Lanka and that is certainly an issue which Congress can cash on.
But the eternal question of Rahul Gandhi remains. Unlike Indira Gandhi, who can communicate effectively with masses, Rahul Gandhi is a poor communicator. His image of Pappu is yet to get erased. So though there is a model to copy can Rahul Gandhi do that is to be seen.
(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)