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An election not worth its name
Former President Pranab Mukherjee had once said, "Certain offices should not be sought, rather they should be offered. Congress presidency is one such office
Former President Pranab Mukherjee had once said, "Certain offices should not be sought, rather they should be offered. Congress presidency is one such office." This is exactly what has happened in the AICC again. The grand old party has selected a grand old leader Mallikarjun Kharge (80) as the successor to Sonia Gandhi.
This offer to Kharge was preceded by a lot of drama and the 'magician' Ashok Gehlot lost the rabbit which he had taken out of his hat and gave a shock to the party high command. It now remains to be seen whether he would be allowed to continue as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan or not. If the present mood in Congress party is any indication, the future of Gehlot is sealed. The high command is likely to take a decision by Monday. But, then the Congress leadership is known for its mood swing. It is known for not doing what it says and all that gets party nod in the name of internal democracy.
We have seen how Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi clearly stated that there would be election for the new party president and that the Gandhi family would not propose or support anyone and there would no official candidate. This was followed by Congress-style high drama where everyone thought Gehlot was set to take over as AICC president. But the mood swung against him as the Gandhis were confronted with a double-fisted punch: a public revolt by a senior and trusted loyalist and the prospect of a shaky government in one of the few states that the Congress still governs.
Again, the name of Rahul Gandhi was being proposed by all including the Kharge. But Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi said they were not in the running for the party president post. Then came the name of another veteran Digvijay Singh to fore. Within 24 hours of his collecting the nomination forms, there was another mood swing and Digvijay Singh was asked not to contest and Kharge was declared as the official candidate. Kharge emerged as the party high command's "official" candidate.
All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary K C Venugopal reportedly told Kharge on Thursday night that the top brass wanted him to join the contest. The next step would be Kharge resigning as the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha in tune with the party's one man one post policy. The Congress party and its Durbaris call this as a step forward but it is known fact that accepting orders will be the remit of Mallikarjun Kharge, who is near certain to be elected. "A parallel power centre" of the Gandhis will call the shots. Congress has proved that old habits die hard.
Still, the veterans are prompt in saying that after about 24 years a non-Gandhi would be at the helm of affairs. They said history beckons as it would the fourth time since Independence that that polling would decide who would be the new president. This is typical Congress style of functioning. The presidential election takes place through selection and they call it the most democratic party. No other party is so democratic, Jairam Ramesh claimed while talking to media after Kharge filed his papers.
With the hunt for Sonia's successor over, the trillion dollar question is will Kharge be able to resurrect the image of the party and restore its importance in the political arena ahead of the next general elections. Since he has long standing as a Parliamentarian, Kharge has good connect and rapport with all opposition leaders, whether it be Sitaram Yechuri of the left or NCP chief Sharad Pawar and other leaders. He is known for his sharp tongue and criticism of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though he is from South, he speaks in Hindi which went well with leaders in his role as Leader of Opposition but it may be difficult for him to strike a chord with the audience in the Hindi belt during elections.
Election speeches require a lot of punch, different body language, theatrics and the speech need to be laced with hard hitting words and lucrative offerings. The octogenarian leader may not be able to match this talent of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Public speaking is always different from speeches in Parliament. In an ostensible attempt to establish his Hindi credentials, Kharge after filing his nomination addressed the media in Hindi.
Congress being what it is, one cannot be sure enough that Kharge would be able to bring the party to power in Karnataka assembly elections. The biggest challenge in Congress party has always been to control dissent. The Congress also seems to have given a go-by to its claim that it would rejuvenate the party with young leadership. It justifies its action saying, "Congress is an inter-generational party where there is respect for seniors." What they mean by this, only they know better.
Congress intellectuals have a great sense of humour. Explaining the significance of the president election, general secretary in-charge, communications, Jairam Ramesh said, "Speaking for myself, I am a firm believer in the Kamraj model of consensus but as elections are inevitable, the process has been announced, we are the only political party to have this process, as and when elections are needed." The word Kamraj model sounds interesting but does it really reflect in this election?
In the past, yes, there were certain occasions when elections were freer and fairer. In the 1950 election to the post of Congress president, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's candidate Acharya Kripalani lost to Purushottam Das Tandon who was Sardar Vallabhai Patel's loyalist. Tandon had won reportedly polling 1,306 votes against Kripalani's 1,092 votes. In 1939, Mahatma Gandhi's candidate for Congress presidency Pattabhi Sitaramayya lost to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. But then the present Congress cannot be compared to the old Congress by any standards except the name.
After 47 years, in 1997, the party saw keen fight among Sitaram Kesri, Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot but Sitaram Kesari could not last long or shall we say he was not allowed to be in the hot seat for long though he had posted a landslide victory getting 6,224 votes against Pawar's 882 and Pilot's 354.
The third contest came in 2000 and this was the only time when a Gandhi was challenged in elections. Senior leader Jitendra Prasada took on Sonia Gandhi. He was mauled as he could not get support of more than 94 voters while Sonia Gandhi got 7,400 votes.
The present elections are being touted as unprecedented and historical as no one from the Gandhi family – Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka – is in the fray. However, the party leadership says they will be supervising the polls. It remains to be seen whether they would remain neutral or there would be some informal messaging in support of Kharge.
The political analysts opine that the message has gone loud and clear across all state units that Kharge is the choice of the Gandhi family and now the election would only be a formality. Kharge said he has been propagating Congress philosophy since his school days when he was in ninth standard. Apparently, it is a clear indication that he will be a remote-controlled president.
If one takes a quick peek into the history of the Congress party in the post-Independence period, in 1950, Tandon became the chief. Nehru served as the party chief between 1951 and 1955. Nehru left the post of Congress president in 1955 and Uchharangrai Navalshankar Dhebar who served as the Chief Minister of Saurashtra in 1948 to 1954 took over the reins of the party. Indira Gandhi was the Congress president in 1959, followed by Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who remained at the helm till 1963.
Congress chiefs between 1964 and 1984: K Kamraj was president of the Congress in 1964-67, while S Nijalingappa was the Congress president in 1968-69. Jagjivan Ram became the Congress president in 1970-71 and then Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma was the Congress president from 1972-74. Dev Kant Barooah was the Congress president from 1975-77. He shot into fame during Emergency period when he said "Indira is India, India is Indira." Indira Gandhi was again the Congress president from 1978-1984.
Congress presidents between 1985 and 1998: From 1985 to 1991 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhi was the Congress president. Between 1992 and 1996, P V Narasimha Rao was the Congress president.