Over the past week, the Congress seems to have had a facelift. Pictures and videos of party MPs being dragged by the police, state unit presidents being water cannoned, and India’s beloved ‘Oxygen Man’ — Youth Congress president Srinivas BV — being kicked by a police constable became viral on social media besides being covered in prime time bulletins. Two chief ministers also hit the streets and were made to wait in their cars even as the Delhi Police refused them permission to meet party colleagues detained in multiple police stations across the city.
The Congress, which is often criticised for not being on the streets, finally hit the streets. Not for price rise or unemployment or minority rights or a border dispute. But for its ‘leader’ Rahul Gandhi, who appeared before the Enforcement Directorate for questioning in the National Herald case. That’s why the Congress party is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
With every protest organised by the party, talks of a ‘Congress revival’ start doing rounds. It’s no different this time. Although, the party is still largely synonymous with the Gandhi family, which is why the current protest has also divided party workers and leaders.
Congress on the streets, for a familial cause
On 12 June, the first day of the protests, Congress leaders from across the country travelled hundreds of kilometres to stand by Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, only to find the last-mile journey from the Sawai Man Singh roundabout to 24 Akbar Road the most cumbersome. Since morning, the Delhi Police had blocked all entry points to the Congress headquarters.
Still, a group of MPs, senior leaders and CWC members were herded into the press hall for a briefing by Randeep Surjewala, who has since been replaced by Jairam Ramesh as the party’s communications in-charge.
The group contained representatives from across the proverbial spectrum: the Rahul Gandhi loyalists, the Sonia Gandhi loyalists, the Priyanka Gandhi loyalists, the naysayers, and those who want to get back into the Gandhis’ good books.
As Rahul Gandhi reached the ED office, the leaders of Youth Congress and others close to him could be seen sloganeering and courting detention. Others had quietly slipped away.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met injured party leaders at the police stations and later went to Ganga Ram Hospital to be with her ailing mother Sonia Gandhi, who has been admitted there since 12 June.
The unstated conflict in the Congress cadres over hitting the street shows why it’s difficult to take the party’s aggressive stance seriously. One can never say who will or will not stand by Gandhi if he were to be arrested, as is being speculated.
Gandhi’s supporters expectation…or anticipation
The main mobilisers on the first two days were the Indian Youth Congress and the Delhi Congress, the party’s most dependable suppliers of cadre. Both organisations have a good number of young leaders whose exuberance helps the party tide over cynicism of older leaders.
The other main mobiliser was Haryana MP Deepender Hooda, who summoned the youth Congress and cadre from the neighbouring state. On day three, the Mahila Congress joined the action as the TV crew lapped it up.
So, who was missing? For one, most senior leaders who are not a part of the coterie. Second, the remaining members of the G-23.
Speaking to ThePrint, a member of the G-23 said that many in the group “would not hit the streets for the CEO of a private limited company”. “All leaders in the group are senior and will not be doing this song and dance now just because he is going to prison,” said the leader.
Another leader, who escaped detention, said that they came for the protest on the first day but wouldn’t consider spending their entire day in a police station “over this”.
“I came, the media cameras saw me, I gave a few interviews at AICC, walked till the ED (office) and then went away when the hullabaloo broke out. The washrooms at the police stations are really dirty. I can’t spend the entire day there,” the leader said.
Speaking about Gandhi’s possible arrest, a young Congress secretary said “all hell will break lose” if that happened.
“You’ll see our jaded cynicism turn into boiling anger. The Gandhis may be what they are but as Congresspersons we can’t sit around when a Gandhi gets arrested,” the member said.
Rahul Gandhi will next be questioned by the ED on Monday — his fourth appearance before the agency. In the Congress circles, the buzz of his arrest has gotten stronger, to the point where one may mistake it for anticipation. Question is, will the Congress build on the momentum or let the ball drop?
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)