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In Congress after Ahmed Patel, Rahul Gandhi needs to play the bigger person, call for unity

With no counter to Rahul Gandhi’s writ on the party, it is time for him to replace the loyalty test with merit and accountability.

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When the patriarch of the family dies, the son who did not get along with the father needs to mature and become a bigger person. Whether or not he likes it, he’s the patriarch now. The pagdi passes on to him. No matter how the world saw him until just the other day, now they see him as the head of the family, for better or worse.

It is just such a situation Rahul Gandhi finds himself in.

A party split down the middle

The extent of the old guard-new guard rivalry in the Congress party for the last few years has been deep. Barely a fraction of it has been reported in the media. It has practically been two parties. I met leaders who have hoped for a split as the only way out. Now, the task before Rahul Gandhi is a bit like having to carry out an acquisition and merger.

The ‘old guard versus new guard’ battle has really been a euphemism for the tensions between Rahul Gandhi and Ahmed Patel. Over the last few years, we have seen Rahul Gandhi take over the party and then give it back. The transfer of power at the top was never total, only a matter of degree, with both sides not letting each other have complete sway. This meant the Congress has lurched along, pulled in different directions, even the smallest of decisions delayed by weeks and months on end.

Talking to people in the Congress over the last few years has been like talking to bureaucrats. Either they are in favour with the party’s current rulers or they are not. That decides whether they get an important posting. So whenever the system changed from Ahmed Patel to Rahul Gandhi’s hands or vice versa, key players across the party hierarchy would change. Since the primary goal of both sides was to wrest control of the party (and not defeat the BJP) they would use loyalty as the yardstick to determine who is placed where.

So, for example, K.C. Venugopal was made General Secretary (Organisation) over Mukul Wasnik because of Venugopal’s loyalty to Rahul Gandhi. Wasnik, on the other hand, was seen to be Ahmed Patel’s voice. The Rahul Gandhi camp hoped they could use Venugopal’s occupation of the powerful General Secretary (Organisation) office to prevent Ahmed Patel from having his way in appointments. But, Congress people close to the Rahul Gandhi camp told me Patel would bypass Venugopal and get names decided straightway from Sonia Gandhi, the interim party president. They cite the example of Rohan Gupta, who was made social media chief in this way.

People in the old guard complain that Rahul Gandhi himself didn’t take enough interest in party affairs to be present and deliberating on day to day affairs since 2019, instead hoping that a political lightweight like K.C. Venugopal would take care of the interests of Rahul Gandhi’s people. Rahul Gandhi would be away, travelling and holidaying or just being incommunicado, and urgent decisions had to be taken because there’s always some election round the corner.

Also read: No one in Team Rahul can be a pillar like Ahmed Patel, Congress leaders say

Adopt the orphans

That gives you a snapshot of just how divided the Congress has been. After 2019, when Rahul Gandhi quit the president’s post, people appointed or entrusted by him found themselves ‘orphaned’. And that is exactly the word that some Ahmed Patel acolytes are using today for themselves.

This is the time for Rahul Gandhi to act decisively and end factionalism. The leader of the other side has gone to the heavens. There’s only Rahul Gandhi left. He needs to show he’s the bigger person, sending a clear signal to all Ahmed Patel acolytes that he considers them his people too. If Rahul Gandhi can do this, he will strengthen both the Congress party and his own position in it. If he can frame this as a call for unity in the Congress, he may even be able to give Congress workers and leaders a new narrative to pin their hopes on.

To do this, Rahul Gandhi has to keep five things in mind.

First, time is of the essence. 

A rallying call for unity cannot wait until the formality of Rahul Gandhi’s re-appointment as Congress president takes place in a namesake election. Four state assembly elections are due in April-May 2021, the party feels ever more directionless after Ahmed Patel’s passing away and many ageing elders are in the mood for a rebellion.

No, it won’t be enough for Rahul Gandhi to call up ‘old guard’ leaders and assure them he’ll be nice to them. An honest effort at reconciliation has to be somewhat public, even if it is couched in the language of unity. It will need at least one vague acknowledgement that the party was split down the middle. You don’t solve a problem without acknowledging it.

Also read: Ahmed Patel’s death is the biggest political event of 2020

Second, no more loyalty tests.

One reason for the unseemly sycophancy in the Congress party is the promotion of people on the basis of loyalty. It will be unfortunate if Rahul Gandhi wants those in the doghouse to demonstrate their loyalty to him. It doesn’t matter if someone said something about Rahul Gandhi in the past, or over complained about him over drinks in social gatherings and the word reached 12, Tughlaq Lane.

This is where Rahul Gandhi needs to be what a leader must be, a bigger person who forgives and forgets and put an end to the loyalty test culture. Now that there’s practically only one faction, Rahul Gandhi and his team would do well to look at all Congressmen and women as equals, in good faith. Past is past.

Third, merit should trump loyalty.

Both sides — old and new guard — rampantly promoted people for reasons of loyalty rather than merit. In the process, they hurt the Congress party. If Rahul Gandhi has the maturity to understand that the feud is over with a demise, he should replace the culture of loyalty with merit. If merit is the sole test, he will find many meritorious people in the old guard and many dead wood amongst his loyalists.

The real test of whether Rahul Gandhi is outgrowing himself and not holding past grudges over the factional battles will be to see if he is willing to promote merit from among the old guard.

Also read: Congress didn’t do much to tackle accusations thrown at party and these stayed

Fourth, proof of merit is in accountability. 

The ‘new guard’ wants to know what Anand Sharma or Ghulam Nabi Azad bring to the table today, but equally they could be asked why Praveen Chakravarty should get promoted despite being blamed for the 2019 election, or why a Randeep Surjewala keeps rising in prominence even after not being able to save his own seat in Haryana.

It is time for Rahul Gandhi to stop thinking in terms of ‘my people’ and ‘not my camp’. He should only apply the test of accountability while making appointments and giving promotions. The test of accountability is in election results.

Fifth, Rahul should put Congress above Rahul Gandhi.

Last but not the least, Rahul Gandhi needs to give up on the lost cause of building brand Rahul. He is now in charge, and those who don’t like that fact no longer have Ahmed Patel to complain to. Instead of forcing the entire party to carry the burden of building brand Rahul, he needs to rebuild brand Congress by creating and promoting grassroots leadership, minus the coterie culture that has long bedevilled the party.

The author is contributing editor at ThePrint. Views are personal.

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  1. Congress since 1950, after death of Sardar Patel, has been of dynasty, by dynasty and for dynasty and welfare and continution of dynasty comes before everything else, including nation. this was all helped by dynasty friendly media, jnu, leftists, so called experts. In the new digital age, where everyoine has access to every information, these so called experts, dynasty media have been exposed like never before and has led to downfall of dynasty.

  2. I have requested Shri Shekhar Gupta in the past and once again I am requesting him not to flog Shri Shivam Vij to churn up articles at such short notice. This would be his nth write up on Shri Rahul Gandhi and how to kickstart his non existent political career. The middle aged dynast simply does not have it in him. Who else would go to campaign in Bihar state elections for just 3 days, talk about China and in the middle of it all, go off on a holiday to Shimla? Now he is in Goa and tweeting, not on farmer’s agitation, but on China.

  3. Mr. Shivam. I have seen tons of articles from your end about Congress party’s internal affiars – What the leader should do and what it should not. But never have you written about any other party be it BJP or say TMC/SP/BSP etc etc. So what is your desperation that congress shuld revvive and what makes you think you should give advise only ot Congress. If any other member would have given suggestion the party would simply say it is for them to decide how they want to manage their affairs.

  4. Author is expecting too much from RaGa, an insecure dynast can’t deliver what the author dreams. Good luck congress

  5. The history of growth and decline, or even demise of the political parties of post-independent India shows that “ we the people of India” has developed and adhered to a very strange political phenomenon — that is there is no space or scope for TWO- Central or all India level parties in the Indian political landscape. There was / will be ONLY ONE big political party and a small second political party to confront the bigger outfit. This was true since elections of 1937 (under Govt..of India Act of 1935 ) or elections held under the present Constitution . Post 1989 when resurgent BJP began to expand and common voters of India began to see–through misdeed committed by Congress party and it s owner dynasty like centralsation of all political, economic, administrative powers concentrated in their lap , minority-appeasement , corruption in all walks of life, negligence of internal as well as external security of India, controlling the economic levers of the economy by license-quota-permit Raj, making and preaching distorted history of India for pandering to one special minority community ,flight of capital and money earned by corrupt means to Italian and Swiss banks vaults or to some unknown Tax-heavens , etc etc. All this was/is enough for voters to search for alternative and for BJP to fill the political space from which Congress party is/was being ejected. As the political strength of BJP expanded , Congress come down to such a pass that it failed to get even 10 % of seats in LokSabha in 2014 & 2019 and is completely abolished from many states of India. With the poor quality of present dynastic leadership it is not going to be “PEOPLE CHOICE “ at any time in near or far future. Congress will go and become EXTINCT , it is not a big problem. Country has already made its choice apparent by voting BJP to lead the nation .

    What ever some of sponsored- journalists may write , SG s , RG s , PG s , or ANY-OTHER G , s can not bring back the old Hey Days when Being a Congress leader in the good books of Family meant tonnes of Money and unbridled POLITICO-ECO power. FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE INDEPENDENCE — Election results of 2024 will see NO PERSON FROM NEHRU DYNASTY IN LOK-SABHA.

    But real problem is that there are some very good persons LEFT in Congress party with TALENT AND HONESTY . All of them can not join BJP after severing their ties with the old party . So what is/ may be CHOICE for them. The only SOLUTION for them is that –RESPECTIVE STATE UNITS of Congress party and its good leaders still left in the party , should sever their grand old association with the central HIGH COMMAND and make their state units INDEPENDENT state specific out-fits. Otherwise many of them will be just wasting their time and talent.

  6. For some journalists Ahmedji was like a father figure.

    I know they feel a personal loss. My heart felt condolences to this journalists.

    ” THE PRINCE ” should now appoint this journalists as his advisers to fill the void of SHRI Ahmedji .

  7. I don’t understand why the author is hell bent on making RG a leader. In all the opulence of his words, he does not realise that. RG simply does not have it in him. Time and again, he has proved himself an idiot. It is not a right wing media created perception. It is the truth and the common man has understood it beyond any doubt.

  8. Shivam is a Congress party worker , he himself clearly mentioning all confidential conversations he is having on day to day bases with congress, then why it is mentioned in The Print Shivam is a contributing Editor!!! Please mention as congress worker and editor For the Print.

  9. Only in India so much media attention is given to a party like congress and leader like Rahul Gandhi who has no administrative experience and appetite or vision for success of his party or the country. Nobody in modern India or at least the audience reading ThePrint give a crap about your patriarchial analogies.
    I hope congress dies and some newer, modern, liberal and mor energetic party emerges from its ashes. If any person in India would have got as many chances as this pappu has got, he would have been PM for 10 yrs by now. India deserves a better opposition party and leader than Congress and Rahul Gandhi.

  10. Instead of advising here it would be better for you to directly give Sermons to Rahul & become his Margadarshak .

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