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Living in interesting times

A process of overhauling the Congress will begin soon, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: May 08, 2006 01:24 IST
Between us | Pankaj Vohra
Between us | Pankaj Vohra

The poll outcome of the by-election to the Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituency may be a foregone conclusion, but it is more or less certain that the process of overhauling the Congress organisation will begin shortly after Parliament adjourns and after the UPA government completes two years in office on May 22. The results of the assembly as well as other by-elections will be known by next week. From available indications, the NDA does not figure anywhere among the groupings that are likely to emerge on top. On the other hand, the Congress, along with its allies, is expected to do much better than it was originally believed. And the Left, of course, appears to be comfortably placed in West Bengal and, to some extent, in Kerala.

But if any one constituency has evoked maximum interest, it is Rae Bareli from where Congress president Sonia Gandhi is on the threshold of scoring another victory. There is, however, academic interest that out of the two BJPs — Rajnath Singh’s and Uma Bharati’s — who will secure more votes. This could have a bearing on the thinking within the Sangh parivar, where a large number of people have already started backing Uma in preference to the original BJP.

The importance of the Rae Bareli election lies in the fact that Sonia has ensured that the Congress effort should remain in the hands of her immediate family members. If Rahul Gandhi was asked to spearhead the campaign, Priyanka has been brought in as her  mother’s election agent to oversee the arrangements during the final phase. It is not without significance that since April 25, when Rahul landed in Rae Bareli, one member of the family has constantly been in the constituency to supervise things. Most of the Congress office-bearers and netas have been asked to stay away. Even Ashok Gehlot, the AICC general secretary in charge of the state, has not dared to cross the outer limits of Lucknow during all these days. If he has camped in the state capital, it is to give an impression that he was holding fort in Lucknow and was present there to meet last minute requirements.

On May 3 and 4, when Sonia visited her constituency, both Gehlot and UPCC president Salman Khurshid along with some other senior leaders, were nowhere to be seen next to her. Instead, they attended to other party work. All this amply indicates that the Congress president left her entire campaign strategy in the hands of her most trusted team and avoided Congressmen of all shades as she didn’t wish any factionalism or state-level politics to reflect in the actions that may have followed.

By keeping even those who were considered close to her away from Rae Bareli, Sonia has sent a strong message that she was disappointed with some of her advisors and the manner in which they messed up things leading to her resignation from the Lok Sabha. Although she also sent a signal that she believed in principles rather than positions, the advice of her advisors was not needed in her constituency. Some disgruntled elements tried to create mischief by getting dancers to perform in the constituency against the wishes of the Gandhi family and getting the matter publicised. But after Rahul indicated that he would personally inquire who was behind this, things quietened down.

As stated in this column two weeks ago, the Rae Bareli polls have pushed Rahul on to the centrestage of national politics. He may assume greater responsibility once the results are out. Some AICC leaders are trying to create a perception that Rahul’s role will be confined only to UP, since the party has to be resuscitated there. But it is obvious that they don’t want Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi’s son to take up a position in the central party. And if that happens, their own position may be reduced as Rahul will be No. 2.

In fact, if Rahul does take up greater responsibility, it will be in the national party, though UP could be a part of his area of operation. Much in UP will also depend on the kind of relations that  develop between the Congress and the BSP in the coming days. And that could mean trouble for Mulayam Singh Yadav, whose supremacy in the state may get challenged effectively.

There is also an attempt to prematurely project Rahul as the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2009 parliamentary polls in order to involve him in controversies. Everyone knows 2009 is far away and anything can happen between then and now. Right now, the UPA government is about to complete two years in office and Manmohan Singh continues to enjoy the full trust of the Congress president and the allies despite best efforts by some leaders to precipitate needless controversies in order to extract political mileage. Even on the issue of reservations, the party that seems divided right now may unitedly back Rahul if he gives a final view on the subject.

What is going to be a matter of interest is who all will find their way into the AICC if the impending reshuffle takes place in the next couple of weeks. From the Congress perspective, however, it will be more interesting to see who are retained in the organisation besides those who come in. Obviously, if Rahul Gandhi gets inducted in the organisation in any position, the average age of the Congress may also come down in respect of decision-making.

It is certain that the coming days are going to witness a lot political activity. It is also more or less certain that some of Sonia’s advisors who have failed in their duty may fade slowly into oblivion. The state of the party needs to be improved especially with polls in UP, Uttaranchal and Punjab coming up early next year. So far Sonia alone has brought the party this far. But she needs to weed out some dead wood and replace them with more energetic and result-oriented people. In the coming days, the developments within the Congress will be watched with maximum interest. Between us.

First Published: May 08, 2006 00:24 IST

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