The Congress is a glutton; its capacity for self-indulgence seems infinite, as the wacky shenanigans that is currently going on in Rajasthan proves. Encased in a bubble, the comatose and blissfully fatalist “high command” is convinced that the Congress shall, magically, mysteriously, resurrect itself in all its past glory; that its time shall come. Neither Sonia Gandhi and her courtiers nor Ashok Gehlot and his loyalists, nor the senior leaders thrown in to fight the fire care to answer the question: how will it all end? These are leaders so wrapped up in themselves that they are disdainful of reality.
Therefore, Sonia Gandhi can neither order punitive action against the mutineers, all loyalists of Ashok Gehlot, whom he has officially disowned, nor dump the man, who has been unofficially declared her choice in the first presidential election in the Congress in decades. The inability of the party high command to anticipate that such a move was in the offing speaks volumes about the ivory tower in which it has sealed itself.
Sonia Gandhi no longer commands the Congress as she once did. Having encouraged Mr Gehlot to believe he will be her successor, Sonia Gandhi ensured that the Rajasthan CM could disrupt her plans by holding the party to ransom. The newest episode in the long-running series on how the Congress is dysfunctional is Mr Gehlot’s assurance to a gaggle of his loyalists — “I am not away from you (mein thansu dur nahi),” after the three ringleaders of the “revolt” were handed showcause notices by the AICC.
The crisis, one more in the series, substantiates that the leadership is dangerously irresponsible. Sonia Gandhi and her coterie of advisers and managers are out of touch with the key leaders of the party, as the Gehlot mutiny exposed. Whereas the succession, through a democratic process of contest between competing claimants, ought to have been managed, the Gehlot mutiny reveals that the high command and its coterie botched it, spectacularly. Given the extreme aversion to challenge evident in the reaction of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and their separate coteries to the demand for a change of leadership and an overhaul mounted by the G-23 constituents, the mismanagement of the presidential elections was only to be expected.
The group of veterans, including leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal, who have exited the Congress, were correct that a change of leadership was necessary. The demand for democratic functioning, in other words, wider consultations within the organisation rather than the concentration of power and decision making in the hands of the Gandhis, was also correct.
Sonia Gandhi made it clear her choice of successor was the reluctant Ashok Gehlot, who didn’t want to quit as CM. If Sonia Gandhi had been cleverer or her advisers cannier, they should have negotiated the succession in Rajasthan before putting Mr Gehlot’s name on the party’s presidential shortlist. In fact, a smarter management would have staged an election that was democratic, but with an entirely predictable outcome.
Instead, the Congress and all its warts and wounds is keeping the public entertained in a ghastly, mindless serial with too many episodes, a storyline that wanders and not enough surprise. There is nothing now to prevent the presidential election from getting messier. The likelihood of the Congress transforming itself into a better managed, more effective Opposition is receding rapidly.
The fact that the Congress leadership — which includes Mr Gehlot and the “senior” leaders —A.K. Antony, hauled out of retirement, Anand Sharma of the G-23, Kamal Nath, Ambika Soni, Sushilkumar Shinde, Selja and Mukul Wasnik — has been thrown into the mess to salvage what they can to stop Rajasthan from further wrecking the party by setting an example is why the Gandhi style of management is such a failure. These leaders should have been used to ensure a smooth presidential election and transition, not work as firefighters.
The eleventh-hour entry of another veteran, Digvijaya Singh, into the fray is seen as a checkmate gambit by Sonia Gandhi against further machinations by Mr Gehlot and company. With Shashi Tharoor, a lateral entry into the Congress with a limited following, the contest is now open for the Gandhis to manage the outcome. This is typical of the Gandhi family, still in denial over the discontent in the party over its leadership. By dressing up the faux fight as a wise move to ensure continuity and change, Sonia and Rahul retain power as emeritus leaders.
The crisis underscores the contempt of the Congress for the political institution-organisation and the faceless, nameless, countless workers, sympathisers, supporters and voters who remain loyal to the idea of the Congress. It also reveals the contempt of the leadership, especially Sonia Gandhi, for the expectations of veteran Opposition leaders that she and her party would behave responsibly in the run-up to the 2024 polls.
The mismanagement of the presidential election in the Congress is damaging, if not actually destructive, of the process of Opposition unity. Just before the Rajasthan crisis erupted, Bihar’s veteran RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, a Sonia Gandhi and Congress loyalist, and chief minister Nitish Kumar met her to talk about Opposition strategy, their expectations of the Congress and the urgency of fighting for the defeat of the BJP and to oust Narendra Modi from power.
The crisis, on the one hand, of the self-indulgent Mr Gehlot, who obviously wants to have his cake and eat it too, by dictating who shall not be his successor as CM, namely Sachin Pilot, and expecting a managed election with a predictable outcome, and on the other, of a self-indulgent Sonia Gandhi, who expects her will shall be executed by the recalcitrant, is a melodrama in a royal court.
Neither side has thought about the 119,495,214 people who voted for the party in 2019, helped it maintain a vote share of 19.49 per cent. Neither side cares for the thousands who have spontaneously joined the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra, the long march by Rahul Gandhi over 3,750 km from the south to the north.
Neither side cares for the people who turned up to see the yatris pass, offer them water and food and rest and, above all, support. Sonia Gandhi and Mr Gehlot, their courtiers and conspirators, are oblivious and contemptuous of the expectations, aspirations and the loyalty of the people to the idea of the Congress, as a national party, a moderate, secular party, as a reformist party. As leaders, cocooned in privilege, they share a belief, as the immensely popular rap song said it — “Kaun bola mujhse na ho payega” and “Apna Time Aayegaa”.