Congress Crisis: Will Rahul & Priyanka Meet Dissenters Half-Way?

Sonia Gandhi’s next steps will indicate whether she wants a fight or whether she will try to forge a middle path.

Updated
Opinion
6 min read
Image of Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi used for representational purposes. 
i

Amid much debate over the internal strife in the Indian National Congress, The Quint has invited two senior political journalists to weigh in on the situation. This article is the first part of the series. The second article, by senior journalist Bharat Bhushan, can be accessed here.

On the face of it, the Gandhis and their coteries seem to have ‘slapped down’ the 23 senior Congress leaders who wrote a letter of protest to Sonia Gandhi about the festering leadership crisis in the party and demanded change.

A stormy Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting resolved to maintain status quo. Sonia Gandhi stays on as interim president. There’s a vague promise of an AICC session in six months to elect a new full-time president, the COVID pandemic permitting. And the letter writers were rapped on the knuckles for ‘weakening’ the party at a time when it should have stood united behind the Gandhis, who, the resolution claimed, are the ‘only ones’ fighting the Modi government.

Congress Crisis: Will Rahul & Priyanka Meet Dissenters Half-Way?
But the bravado cannot hide the toll the controversy has taken on the family.

In public perception, it is the Gandhis, not the letter writers, who have emerged bruised, amid an ‘orchestrated’ chorus of support. In their desperation to preserve their grip on the party they have ended up adding grist to the BJP’s propaganda mill about the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Gandhi Loyalists Dissenting Is A Measure of Frustration That Has Gripped The Congress

The tenuous position of the Gandhi family is underlined by the refusal of the letter writers to be cowed down by attacks from Rahul and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at the CWC meeting. Only four of those who penned the missive are members of the CWC – Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada – but despite being heavily outnumbered, all of them stuck to their guns. They said they stand by every word written in the letter.

What must be galling for the family is that all four are committed Gandhi family loyalists and have been associated with the Congress from their youth.

In fact, last year, when Rahul Gandhi abruptly resigned as party president, Wasnik’s name was doing the rounds as interim president till senior leaders prevailed upon Sonia Gandhi to take on the post.

It’s a measure of the frustration and gloom that has gripped the party that loyalists like these added their signatures to a letter that virtually challenges the Gandhis and demands a complete overhaul in the family-dominated style of functioning. In fact, most of the 23 signatories have been close to the Gandhis, which only underlines the depth of the crisis.

Congress Crisis: Will Rahul & Priyanka Meet Dissenters Half-Way?
Snapshot
  • The tenuous position of the Gandhi family is underlined by the refusal of the letter writers to be cowed down by attacks from Rahul and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at the CWC meeting.
  • What must be galling for the family is that all four are committed Gandhi family loyalists and have been associated with the Congress from their youth.
  • The letter boils down to one thing: a vote of no-confidence in heir apparent Rahul Gandhi.
  • It’s not surprising that Congress leaders have been feeling jittery over the past one year.
  • They sorely missed the presence of a leader who would give the party political direction and create a roadmap for revival.

Rahul Gandhi Would Have Done Well To Prepare A Succession Plan

Shorn of the highfalutin issues the signatories have raised (like the demand for elections at all levels, the need for transparency in decision-making, the revival of the constitutionally-mandated Congress Parliamentary Board, etc), the letter boils down to one thing: a vote of no-confidence in heir apparent Rahul Gandhi.

It is unlikely that any Congress leader, no matter how unhappy, would have dared to point a finger at his leadership style had he not walked out in a huff after the Congress lost the 2019 general election, its second consecutive defeat.

Not only did he get up and leave, he didn’t help prepare a succession plan.

In fact, he came up with the notion of a non-Gandhi president although he must be aware of how the party treated those from outside the family like Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri. Both were unceremoniously removed from the post of president and are now forgotten figures in the annals of official Congress history.

Congress Crisis: Will Rahul & Priyanka Meet Dissenters Half-Way?

Congress Leaders Sorely Missed Leadership & Direction

It’s not surprising that Congress leaders have been feeling jittery over the past one year. They sorely missed the presence of a leader who would give the party political direction and create a roadmap for revival. Sonia was ailing and could not be an active president, obviously. But Rahul steadfastly refused to step in and fill the breach.

Yet, he seemed to be taking all major decisions.

Rahul Gandhi promoted Hardik Patel as working president of the Gujarat Congress. He insisted on a Rajya Sabha nomination for KC Venugopal from Rajasthan, despite murmured objections from Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Congress Crisis: Will Rahul & Priyanka Meet Dissenters Half-Way?

Rahul Gandhi has been carrying on a one-man Twitter crusade against Narendra Modi, using epithets like ‘Surrender Modi’ in the wake of the border clash with China. He seemed totally oblivious of the fact that this strategy had cost the Congress dearly in 2019 when the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ slogan fell flat.

And when some leaders flagged concerns in a CWC meeting some weeks ago about the perils of making personal attacks on the prime minister, they were shouted down. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accused them of ‘failing the party’ by not supporting Rahul.

Congress Crisis: Will Rahul & Priyanka Meet Dissenters Half-Way?

What Will Sonia Gandhi’s Next Steps Be?

The manner in which the battle lines are emerging, Rahul and Priyanka seem to be pitted against a large section of the Congress establishment. ‘If people want to leave, let them’, Rahul is supposed to have said at an NSUI meeting. His handlers had to do a rush damage control job by denying the comment. But there were too many people who heard it for the denial to hold.

Officially, there were 23 signatories to the protest letter. But according to Congress sources, there are hundreds more who are ready to append their names. One senior leader said that they have been flooded with phone calls from workers and supporters across the country endorsing the issues they have raised.

Congress Crisis: Will Rahul & Priyanka Meet Dissenters Half-Way?
It would seem that the crisis in the Congress is far from over.

In fact, the CWC meeting and the defiant endorsement of faith in the leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi may have exacerbated tensions.

The CWC authorised Sonia Gandhi as interim president to make any organisational changes she deems fit. Her next steps will indicate whether she wants a fight or whether she will try to forge a middle path as is her nature, and aim for a consensus resolution. Even if she goes for the latter option, the question still remains: will her children accept a compromise with sections who dared to raise a challenge? Or are they spoiling for a fight to the finish?

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

Published: 
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!