Change imminent in Congress despite calls for Sonia to stay

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 14, 2015 09:31 IST

Sonia Gandhi isn’t reportedly impressed by party old-timers’ calls for her continuation as Congress president. She believes time has come for a generational shift at the helm with concomitant changes in the organisational hierarchy.

Sources privy to her thinking insist the Congress chief has made up her mind to hand the baton over to Rahul Gandhi. She’d be around but without formal decision-making powers; a kind of ‘guiding and binding influence’ between the old and the new order in the party’s period of transition.

It isn’t any more a matter of reading straws in the wind. The proposed changes would take form in the course of organisational polls — at different tiers — that will kick off mid-May with the closure of the ongoing membership drive.

The dates for the new AICC members electing the congress working committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, are yet to be announced. But the Congress president will be elected by July end.

The complexion of the new CWC will in all probability be a mix of youth and experience. That will satisfy the ‘incremental or gradual’ shift advocated by the old guard. But what applies to the working committee might not find reflection in other key positions where Rahul’s appointees will constitute the new power architecture.

Towards that end, Sonia is reconciled to replacement or repositioning of some of her close advisors and associates. She is believed to have noted in private conversations the inevitability of a section of her confidants of the past 15-17 years making room for Rahul’s team.

It would be interesting, therefore, to watch the level and scope of the changes in the pipeline, more so when party cadres aren’t too familiar with Rahul’s set of advisors. Sections within the Congress even tend to judge them on the basis of debacles in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls followed by defeats in several party-ruled states.

The clamour for Sonia’s continuation as Congress president intensified after she mobilised the party in Manmohan Singh’s defense (after a CBI court made him an accused in a coal mine allocation case). She also led from upfront the combined Opposition’s assault on the Narendra Modi regime’s version of the land acquisition and compensation law. A big farmers’ rally is now planned in Delhi on April 19 to mark Rahul’s return from a leave of absence that hasn’t gone down well in popular perception.

Overtly, there isn’t much resistance to the party vice president’s elevation. But questions indeed are asked whether other parties would have joined the Congress’s march to Rashtrapati Bhavan if Rahul were to lead it? Stories also abound about the work style of some of his close aides.

In contrast, Sonia’s relevance is a no-brainer from the Congress’s standpoint. Her arrival in active politics in 1998 first infused life in the party that was falling apart under Sitaram Kesri, thereafter she restored it to power in 2004.

The decade-long stint in power has since brought the Congress to a pass much worse than the Kesri era. Rahul would have to hit the ground running on his arrival; his foremost challenge being to reassure sceptics within his party before reaching out to the people.

Sonia for her part believes the status-quoists are driven by her lenient manner. They’re circumspect about the impending changes as her consensual approach — and willingness to look the other way— saw some among them get away with worst behaviour.

So will Rahul crack the whip that Sonia didn’t? That’s anybody’s guess. But in politics, one has to command respect. It isn’t made to order.

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