Rahul Gandhi wants to resign. Here’s why this may be farcical, writes Barkha Dutt
If the Gandhis continue to control the party, they may as well give up any insistence on quittingUpdated: Jun 29, 2019 13:33 IST
A month and a few days after the Congress debacle, the party is still floundering and in a grave state of drift. Innumerable Congress politicians have privately expressed a sense of deep frustration and anxiety for their own future. One or two have thought aloud about whether it is time to leave the party. Yet the irony is this: a party that is in urgent need of cataclysmic change looks like it is headed for more of the same. And this will be true even if Rahul Gandhi steps down from the post of party president.
At a meeting of the party’s parliamentarians this week, Rahul Gandhi declared that he was not budging from his decision. He said he had decided well before the elections that were the party to lose in 2019 he would quit, “because someone has to take accountability”. But in what is so symptomatic of the sycophancy cult that plagues the Congress, every member stood up in perfunctory protest.
However, one of the more interesting arguments is said to have come from Shashi Tharoor who, while commending Gandhi for taking ownership of the defeat, asked: What about someone taking accountability for rebuilding the party? Who would that person be? Shouldn’t Gandhi at least postpone his decision for a few months and oversee the rebuilding of the party? Gandhi remained adamant. When some other leaders pointed out that the party was in danger of losing legislators in states like Maharashtra and Karnataka, Gandhi was reportedly belligerent. Those who wanted to leave, were welcome to do so, he declared, betraying no acknowledgment of the crisis that stares him in the face. It could be only a matter of time before the Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka fall. But no, the meeting ended with a decision to choose a new party president and no plan for how to achieve this.
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But frankly, this is just a whole lot of same-old same-old status quo hiding behind a camouflage of cosmetic tinkering.
If the new president of the Congress party is to be chosen by the Congress working committee (CWC), an unelected decision making body, mostly made up of trusted lieutenants of the Gandhi family, you can bet that the next party president will be low-key, non-threatening, without too much of a personality and, above all, a figurehead. He/She will be someone who will continue to derive authority from the first family of the party who will then remain the effective power centre. So what exactly would have changed?
We have already seen this reflected in the choice of the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha. Without making any personal judgement on the calibre of Adhir Choudhary, to pick him over Shashi Tharoor or Manish Tewari, two strong, experienced candidates, can only be because there is no danger of him acquiring a profile of his own that could compete with the Gandhi siblings. Isn’t it intriguing that a man who was removed as the head of the state Congress in West Bengal should be catapulted to the head of the party inside Parliament, even though he is a red rag for the Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee? This is proof that whether or not Gandhi resigns from the post of party president, power will continue to flow from the family fount.
So, tomorrow, if the unelected CWC of Gandhi loyalists picks a person to replace Rahul Gandhi it will be an entirely meaningless exercise. First, why isn’t the CWC resigning en masse as part of the ‘exercise of taking accountability? Second, why aren’t genuine elections being held to the CWC that have the possibility of ushering in new leadership and fresh blood? In the past 50 years, authentic elections have been held to the CWC only twice, in 1992 and 1997, both times when a non-Gandhi was at the helm. If Rahul Gandhi is serious about bringing change to the party, why not step out of the way and hold immediate elections to the CWC?
Today, there are only a handful of leaders in the Congress who have some traction across ideology or grudging admiration from even those who vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party: Amarinder Singh, Shashi Tharoor, Sachin Pilot and Manish Tewari, to name a few. Why should they not assert their ambition instead of being punished for it?
In the next act, if the Gandhi family intends to remain the puppeteers controlling the strings by which the next party president’s future hangs, they may as well give up on the insistence on quitting.
For real change, the Congress needs a new leader. One who does not need to seek the approval or affection of the Gandhis and is able to be her own person.
To save the Congress, are the Gandhis ready to give up their entitled control over India’s oldest party?
Without that, Gandhi’s decision to quit is farcical.
Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author
The views expressed are personal