Rahul Gandhi has officially signed off as Congress president. Ignoring pleas from party members that he reconsider his decision to step down, the Nehru-Gandhi scion wrote a four-page letter on Wednesday in which he made it plain that he had no intention of changing his stand and that the Congress should move ahead and appoint a new president.
This development has predictably been met with much glee in the Bharatiya Janata Party. After all, Rahul Gandhi’s resignation is the culmination of the ruling party’s decade-long strategy to discredit the Nehru-Gandhi scion and project him as a non-serious politician with virtually no leadership qualities.
This persistent and well-planned campaign to defame Rahul Gandhi and show up the Congress as a “family-owned enterprise” was essentially meant to weaken the grand old party as it is a well-acknowledged fact that the Nehru-Gandhi family is the glue that holds it together. While Rahul Gandhi was the chief target of its attack, the BJP did not spare former Congress president Sonia Gandhi either, making sure the mother-son duo is kept embroiled in cases of financial irregularities.
The BJP recognised that in order to weaken the Congress, it was essential to weaken the party’s first family. According to the BJP's calculations, the Congress would automatically unravel if it is not helmed by Rahul Gandhi or any other family member given how the party is shackled to the Gandhis. Factional battles are bound to intensify as second and third-rung leaders fight one another for party posts.
It is important for the BJP to destroy the Congress as it is the only national party that has the potential to challenge it. The saffron party, on the other hand, is more comfortable dealing with regional parties that are not known to be ideologically rigid and can be easily “managed” provided their state interests are protected. Rahul Gandhi’s resignation is thus a major win for the ruling party.
Having succeeded in sowing seeds of confusion in the Congress, as it grapples with its worst-ever leadership crisis, the BJP’s next project will be to ensure that the Nehru-Gandhi family is rendered politically irrelevant so that the dynasty is in no position to stage a comeback and take charge of the party again.
There is a lurking fear in the Congress that in its effort to see that the Nehru-Gandhi family is well and truly sent into political oblivion, the BJP would even go to the extent of co-opting the next president of the grand old party, who will obviously not belong to the Gandhi family. By propping up a non-Gandhi, the BJP will not just ensure that the Congress is forced to function as its B-team but will also see that the principal Opposition party sheds its dependence on the family.
Consequently, the big challenge before the Gandhi family is to guard against its irrelevance even as Rahul Gandhi steps down to make way for a new party president. The Gandhis can ill-afford to lose total control of the Congress as their political survival depends on it.
Though Rahul Gandhi’s Wednesday statement said it would not be correct for him to select his successor as is being suggested by a number of party leaders, there is no doubt that the next Congress president will have the family’s blessings. In fact, it is imperative that the family gets to decide the new Congress president. This will help the Gandhi family retain control over Congress affairs and, at the same time, provide legitimacy to the new party chief. It will not just be difficult, but impossible, for the next president to manage the party or be accepted in his or her new role if he or she does not have the Nehru-Gandhi family’s backing. And there would be mayhem at the next session of the All-India Congress Committee that has to be called to ratify the new party chief’s appointment. The AICC is packed with family loyalists.
Besides, Rahul Gandhi’s resignation does not mean that the family is severing its ties with the party. Sonia Gandhi is the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party with the authority to appoint leaders in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is a general secretary in the party while Rahul Gandhi has promised that he will work tirelessly as a foot soldier to propagate the Congress ideology across the country. In other words, the Gandhi family will remain a power centre in the party and run the Congress through remote control with the next president constantly seeking the family's approval. It will be even worse if the new president’s appointment is viewed as a stopgap arrangement as he keeps the seat warm for Rahul Gandhi.
This situation will provide fresh ammunition to the BJP to attack the Congress. The saffron party’s campaign will necessarily underline that the Congress has become synonymous with the Nehru-Gandhi family and is incapable of looking beyond it. Similarities will also be drawn between former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's position and that of the new party president with neither of them being allowed to function independently. In both instances, the Gandhi family will be seen to be calling the shots, enjoying power without shouldering any responsibility.
Either way, a non-Gandhi as Congress president will be a win-win for the BJP....