Congress: Gone with the Wind

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A week after the Congress’s humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one of the party’s Young Turks who had also been a minister in both United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regimes, told India Today: “Now Pappu he will understand what it means to be in politics. It is not easy to survive in the opposition camp.” Pappu, of course, is a derogatory reference to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, popularized on social media by his detractors.

A week after the Congress’s humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, one of the party’s Young Turks who had also been a minister in both United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regimes, told India Today: “Now Pappu he will understand what it means to be in politics. It is not easy to survive in the opposition camp.” Pappu, of course, is a derogatory reference to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, popularized on social media by his detractors.

The comment was later withheld at the leader’s request, but it was one of the first indicators of discontent among young people to come to light after Rahul joined politics in 2004. While the Gandhi scion has ‘survived’ , even led the party. At one point, despite multiple electoral debacles since that disastrous summer of 2014, several leaders of his generation, including the minister who had made the aforementioned comment, abandoned Rahul and the party.

On January 25, RPN Singh became the latest member of ‘Team Rahul’ to leave the Congress ship. This ambitious clique was formed in July 2003 at a three-day chintan shivir (brainstorming session) of the Congress in Shimla. At the shivir, a congress secretary-general known for his closeness to the Gandhi family had been asking participants to nominate young congressmen who could be groomed as future leaders. On the last day of the session, July 9, some names were written on a piece of paper: Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada and RPN Singh. They were expected to work closely with Rahul, and all of them, plus two others, Ajay Maken and Manish Tewari, were given tickets to run in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in which Rahul also made his debut. Five years later, two more names, Jitendra Singh and Milind Deora, were added to the list made up mostly of descendants of political dynasties.

Rahul no longer trusts the advice of any particular leader and has adopted what a leader calls a horse-by-course approach.

Nearly two decades later, his team, all of whom have served as Union ministers, have disintegrated. Three of them, Scindia, Prasada and RPN, have joined the BJP. Pilot and Deora have expressed their discontent on many occasions. Tewari, one of the leaders of the Group of 23 who had written a letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 requesting a review of the party’s organization and leadership, has not received any major assignments despite be a high-level leader in the Lok Sabha. Only Maken and Jitendra Singh have shown an unwavering commitment to Rahul, though they too have not won a single election since 2014.

In addition to the original team, over the years Rahul also endorsed several other young men and women, giving them important roles in the match. Ashok Tanwar, 38, who was also the president of the Youth Congress, was appointed president of the Haryana Congress. Sushmita Dev, daughter of Gandhi family loyalist and former Union Minister Santosh Mohan Dev, was appointed head of the All India Mahila Congress. Both joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) last year. Although none of the breakaway leaders have publicly uttered a word against Rahul, sources attribute his disillusionment with the latter’s leadership style and the party’s failure to present a narrative that could appeal to voters.

In private, many complain that the leader of Congress can be ‘frivolous’, periodically changing his advisers and promoting a new cabal while others slip by. Also, once he turns his back on someone, it becomes very difficult to get an audience again. After losing patience and trust with many, Rahul now doesn’t trust the advice of any particular leader and has adopted what one leader describes as a horse-for-race approach. “This makes his decisions seem more random. One day he consults Jairam Ramesh, the next KC Venugopal. He can even make a partisan decision after an informal conversation with someone from another party, such as CPI(M) Secretary General Sitaram Yechury. This is unsettling their own leaders,” says a member of the CWC (Congressional Working Committee).

Rahul’s supporters reject such criticism, claiming that “the defectors” moved because they couldn’t even protect their own constituents. “The party continued giving tickets and whatever they wanted to these leaders. Rahul and Priyanka also campaigned for some of them. But they spent little time on party work in their constituencies, so they kept losing. How can Rahul be blamed for this? asks a Lok Sabha MP from the party. While Scindia and Sushmita won the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, they lost in 2019. Prasada, Tanwar and Jitendra Singh have been losing since 2014.

Several congressional leaders even claim that the perception that these leaders were close to Rahul was a “carefully cultivated public relations exercise.” They were seen moving with him in Parliament around the same time he first became a member of the Lok Sabha, and he interacted with them the most because they were his contemporaries. “As a leader, Rahul is very caring towards his colleagues. Many of us misunderstand it as a passport to get the jobs we aspire to. But when it comes to party and organization, he takes into account the general interest and does not practice favoritism. Then the so-called friends get upset and blame him for his inability to deliver,” says Manickam Tagore, Lok Sabha MP and CWC Member of Congress.

B.In addition to the decline in electoral capital, what bothered these former friends was the gradual marginalization within the party organization. Apparently, the party’s de facto leader also did not intervene to protect his “valid concerns”. In 2018, Rahul chose veteran Kamal Nath over Scindia as the top ministerial pick for Madhya Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh, Prasada sought to position himself as a Brahmin leader. But when Priyanka Gandhi became the general secretary in charge of UP, she discovered that she had no role in her plan of affairs. Former Royal and Kurmi leader RPN Singh was involved in a turf war with State Congress Speaker Ajay Kumar Lallu, whose assembly constituency Tamkuhi Raj falls within Kushi Nagar, the Lok Sabha constituency. from where RPN competes. Lallu, by the way, is a close confidant of Priyanka.

Tanwar was upset that he was ousted as Speaker of the Haryana Congress in 2019. Rahul also did little to protect him against state satraps like former Prime Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who had allegedly made things difficult for Tanwar. But, as one MP from the Haryana Congress asks: “Why does he blame others when he failed to win his own seat twice?”

Many within the party admit that Sushmita Dev’s departure was necessitated by the changing socio-political landscape in Assam’s Barak Valley, where her constituency, Silchar, is located. The Barak Valley is dominated by Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims. Most Hindu immigrants support the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, but Congress is against it. Although Sushmita took a stand apart from Congress on the issue, this was not enough to convince the Hindu vote bank. Weighing her options, she chose to join the TMC, which is courting voters as a party for the Bengali-speaking population in Assam, regardless of their religion.

The defections have not affected the party much but have made a dent in the political brand of Rahul Gandhi

Congress insiders say that, unlike Scindia, who was instrumental in dethroning the Congress government in MP, the other traitors will not do any significant damage to the party. Scindia and Sushmita have taken the Rajya Sabha route to Parliament, while Prasada has entered the upper house of the UP legislature. RPN and Tanwar are still undecided about their future course of action. But the defections have caused a huge dent in Rahul Gandhi’s political brand value, as these leaders were perceived to be close to him.

Redemption will now hinge on his latest gamble: selecting Charanjit Singh Channi as the Congress CM candidate for Punjab and ignoring the mercurial Navjot Singh Sidhu. Just a few months ago, Sidhu was Rahul and Priyanka’s chosen soldier in their plot to neutralize former Prime Minister Amarinder Singh. The results of the Punjab assembly election will determine whether this new move was a coup or another failure of the party’s perennial prince. North

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