Congress at an inflection point

Congress at an inflection point

Congress at an inflection point


The battle of King ‘Cong’ is taking an interesting turn. One single comment of Rahul Gandhi that one man should hold only one post has led to Congress Todo rather than Bharat Jodo.

The battle of King 'Cong' is taking an interesting turn. One single comment of Rahul Gandhi that one man should hold only one post has led to Congress Todo rather than Bharat Jodo.

On one hand, the internal squabbles in Rajasthan have come to the fore, and on the other hand questions are being raised whether the new president of All India Congress Committee (AICC) will have absolute freedom to run the party or will he be a remote-controlled president. The indications are that since no one from the Gandhi family is willing to become the president, an atmosphere is being created to elect Ashok Gehlot as the new president.

The Gandhi family has sent a clear indication to the party electorate that Gehlot is their choice as they have started focusing on the successor to Gehlot in Rajasthan. The others Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tiwari, Digvijay Singh etc., will be filing nominations to tell the world that it is a democratic election. But the stage appears to be set for the coronation of Gehlot. The very fact that Rahul Gandhi taking a small break met Sonia Gandhi and other AICC leaders on Saturday indicates that the process of election of the first non-Gandhi head of Congress in 24 years would throw up new challenges.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is keen to hand over the baton to someone else in view of her age (75 years) and health. She has been holding fort since May 2019 when her son Rahul Gandhi resigned from the post following a drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections. As Rahul Gandhi continues to be reluctant to return to head the grand old party and is also adamant on installing a non-Gandhi to the top post, Sonia Gandhi has urged 71-year-old Gehlot to take over the reins of the party. Nominating Gehlot will temporarily help in countering the narrative of its opponents that Congress is a family-run party, which the BJP has been making a poll issue both at the Central level and in states where some regional parties like TRS are in power. Another advantage, the AICC leadership feels, is that it will help in negating the anti-incumbency in Rajasthan with the change of guard.

The desert state is known as a cyclic state as no incumbent government has retained power in decades now. It now remains to be seen how Gehlot who is known as the magician of Rajasthan politics and is known for his organisational skills, would handle the issue of his successor. If he insists on making Assembly Speaker CP Joshi as the next Congress Chief Minister, it could lead to serious trouble within the Rajasthan Congress as Sachin Pilot is making all-out moves to become the Chief Minister. Sachin had created near split in the state party when he revolted against Gehlot in December 2020 with 19 MLAs in his pocket.

If we see the history of the Congress party's performance in Rajasthan, it had never performed well under the leadership of Gehlot. In 1998, the Congress had won 153 seats out of a total of 200 seats and Gehlot took over as Chief Minister for the first time. But in the 2003 election it failed to retain its majority and bagged just 56 seats. In the 2008 elections Congress won 96 seats and Gehlot again became the Chief Minister for second time by managing the MLAs.

The Congress performance at the 2013 assembly polls was worst ever in Rajasthan as it got only 21 seats. Some efforts by Sachin Pilot helped the party win the elections in 2018, but since then there has been a tussle between the veteran Congress leader and Sachin Pilot for the post of Chief Ministership and by 2020 they became arch-rivals and at one point of time a slighted Sachin revolted and it was said that he would be joining the BJP along with 19 MLAs. The magician's efforts, however, succeeded and he succeeded in preventing more erosion from the party and he could overcome with the rebellion. Following an assurance from the Congress high command, Pilot returned to the party and since then he has been waiting for a chance to become the chief minister.

Notwithstanding all this, Gehlot as the AICC president may be acceptable to all. Only thing is he should not become a rubber stamp president. Gehlot has been with the party for a very long time. He was the choice of Rajiv Gandhi to lead the party in Rajasthan. He played an important role in 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections and gave a tough fight to the BJP. What is required now for the Congress is to attract all those who are opposed to Modi towards Congress and also see that other opposition parties see him as an alternative leader to take on Modi.

This is going to be a major challenge for Gehlot. Because on one hand, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is a keen contender for the post of Prime Minister and is trying hard to bring all anti-Modi forces on one platform. Whether Congress party will agree to play second fiddle or whether Nitish will step aside for Congress to lead other opposition remains to be seen. As things stand today, Nitish is not a man who would like to lose the opportunity to emerge as a strong alternative to Modi. Like Gehlot, Nitish, too, is a non-controversial leader. Who would rally behind whom is the trillion dollar question now.

Another task before Gehlot will be to try and win back at least some of the G-23 members. It will be interesting to see how the G-23 or Group of Dissenters respond to this move, and whether this will prompt any rebel leader to throw their hat in the ring.

One thing is certain that the Bharat Jodo Yatra will certainly be helpful for Congress to revive some of its lost image and will help the party to win some more Lok Sabha seats. Even if one presumes, though it is far-fetched, that the Bharat Jodo Yatra would catapult the party to power, the election of Gehlot as AICC president would pave way for Rahul Gandhi to be elected as the Parliamentary Party leader so that he can become the Prime Minister. This, analysts say is the script behind Rahul refusing to become the AICC president and forcing selection-based election in the Congress party.

One thing is certain, interesting developments are in the making. A lot however, depends on the attitude of the opposition parties as Congress on its own cannot throw BJP out of power. Speculations are that TMC chief Mamata Banerjee may agree to join hands with Congress once Gehlot becomes the party president. Who else would join hands needs to be watched.

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