Congress Chintan Shivir: Jaipur to Udaipur, Change in the Rahul Gandhi Question
Between the Jaipur & Udaipur Chintan Shivirs, Delhi has become farther for the Congress – literally and politically.
Udaipur and Jaipur are about 400 kilometres away from each other. But in the context of the Congress, the two cities are nine years apart, both being venues of the current and previous Chintan Shivir (2013).
Between the Jaipur and Udaipur Chintan Shivirs, Delhi has become farther for the Congress both literally and from a political point of view.
There has been another crucial change on the Rahul Gandhi question in the Congress.
While Rahul Gandhi's rise was at the centre of the Jaipur Chintan Shivir, in Udaipur it is being played out in much more subtle ways.
A Tale of Two Events
In the Jaipur Chintan Shivir of January 2013, Rahul Gandhi was appointed as the vice-president of the party.
He was at that time one among many general secretaries of the Congress and became its sole vice-president, a position that had been mostly been vacant except for brief interludes. This made him the clear second-in-command to party President Sonia Gandhi.
Gandhi's ascension and his speech was the highlight of the entire Jaipur Chintan Shivir.
In contrast, nine years later in Udaipur, the leadership question or specifically the Rahul Gandhi question, isn't part of the agenda.
Though Gandhi has managed to get many of his loyalists included among the invitees, the Udaipur Chintan Shivir is essentially Sonia Gandhi's show. And this is something Rahul Gandhi's loyalists also admit.
"This is Sonia Gandhi's show. There's no doubt about it. Had this been Rahulji's show, the structure of the programme would have been very different," said a young party leader who has come down to Udaipur for the meet.
On being asked how it would have been different, the leader who is known to be close to Rahul Gandhi, said, "It would have been much more targeted. Maybe lesser people would have been involved."
The Tricky Question of Rahul Gandhi's Appointment
While the push for Rahul Gandhi's leadership may not be part of the agenda of the Chintan Shivir, it is certainly there in the backdrop.
This is evident from the manner in which Gandhi took the 12-hour train journey from Delhi to Udaipur and got down at several stations to meet party supporters who had gathered there to greet him.
Even though the leadership question has been left for the party polls later this year, the optics behind this mobilisation is clear: Rahul Gandhi remains the number one choice among party workers.
It is quite likely that in the closed door sessions within the Chintan Shivir, some of Gandhi's supporters could express their support for him to take over as party president.
The rise of this section is itself a legacy of the post-Jaipur developments in the party.
Rahul Gandhi's ascension has been a tricky issue since he joined politics in 2004. The demand for him to take up charge either in the party or in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government picked up momentum after 2009.
His then advisors believed that Gandhi should take up this responsibility "riding on the crest of victory."
Many feel, this could have been done after 2009 itself as Gandhi could partly be credited for the party's good showing in Uttar Pradesh. However, the 2009 national verdict was seen essentially as Dr Manmohan Singh's win.
The next milestone was the 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. Had the Congress done well, winning over 80 seats or so, it could have been considered Rahul's win. But the party fell below 30 and his moment never came.
Rahul's rise, of course, was inevitable – he became vice president in 2013 and president in 2017. But the crucial part of "riding the crest of victory," which could have given him unquestioned legitimacy both within and outside the party, never quite materialised except for a brief period between 2017-18.
It is because of this lack of electoral success that Gandhi's re-appointment as party president won't be without its complications.
The complication is reflected even in the mixed messaging coming out of the Chintan Shivir – with Gandhi getting rousing welcomes station after station even as the meet's real focus is on the party's agenda and not leadership.
The Contrast Between Jaipur & Udaipur
If one sets aside the Congress just for a moment, there is another important contrast between Jaipur and Udaipur.
The two kingdoms were on opposing sides during a very crucial period of Rajputana history – with the former being allied to the Mughals and the latter led by Maharana Pratap rebelling against Delhi.
It may be coincidental but the symbolism is telling – at Jaipur (2013), the Congress was a party firmly in power in Delhi. In Udaipur 2022, it needs to launch an all offensive against Delhi, if it has to keep its identity intact.
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