Monday, 15 August, 2022
HomeOpinionNewsmaker of the WeekCongress defeat, angst, rebellion is all a re-run. 'No hope for this...

Congress defeat, angst, rebellion is all a re-run. ‘No hope for this party’ is the new buzz

Congress leaders say the loss in five state elections takes away the party's leeway to go back to what it once was. For others, rebellion by G-23 is just a hoopla.

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For some in the Congress, the space that their organisation has occupied in the media over the last couple of weeks is exactly why there can be “no hope for the party”.

“We will lose election after election. Our loss will be a national headline as will the Gandhis and their plans for succession. There will be some rumbling, some dissent and soon everything will go back to what it was,” a Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity.

However, many others say that the party, after its crushing defeat in the recently concluded five assembly elections, has now lost the leeway to go back to what it once was.

Since 2014, the Congress has lost more than 40 elections (assembly and Lok Sabha) and found success in only four or five. During this time, the shots in the party have ostensibly been called by Rahul Gandhi, while his mother, Sonia, offered the weight of seniority.

Since then, loss after loss faced by the Congress has been pinned on several factors, but two broad themes have been recurrent — the party’s lack of a strong central leadership and the propensity of the Gandhis, especially Rahul, to nurture and give free hand to both regional leaders and those in the AICC.

The party’s recent electoral losses are a combination of these two factors among others. More importantly, unlike the last few times, this time, a third Gandhi – Priyanka – was also directly involved in the electoral campaign and had poor numbers to show by the end of it.

Since the loss, the party has held a marathon meeting of its top decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), while the G-23, a group of senior rebel leaders, has held at least three meetings. Both sets of meetings have apparently deliberated over “reforms” in the party’s organisational structure. On Friday, senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad met Congress president Sonia Gandhi. However, those who have observed the party for long are wary that after all the hoopla, it may once again “go back to what it was”.

And that’s why the turmoil in Congress is ThePrint Newsmaker of the Week.

Also read: Surprise guest list at Congress G-23 ‘dinner meet’ — Tharoor, Aiyar, Preneet Kaur, Vaghela

What will one more election change?

During the meeting of the CWC, the Congress party said that the election for the post of president, due since Rahul Gandhi resigned in 2019, will take place in August-September.

However, it has been a while since the presidential elections in the party have been of any consequence.

In 2000, as dissent against Sonia Gandhi was brewing among senior leaders in the party, a presidential election between ‘Madam’ (as most in the party call her) and Jitendra Prasad saw the latter poll 92 of the 724 votes cast.

In subsequent years, the tenure of a Congress president was first extended from one year to two years, and then in 2010 to five years.

As the elections now approach, many in the Congress are worried about how much of a real election it will be. If Rahul Gandhi contests, and is elected, it will mean that he will remain president until 2027.

“Who in the history of the Congress has ever won an election against a Gandhi? If one of the three stands for president, there is no chance of a new leadership. And everyone, even the G-23, knows that. The people who vote are hand-picked by the (Gandhi) family. You can never defeat them,” said a senior Congress leader who recently quit the party, explaining why he preferred to resign rather than ask for reform.

Also read: Dear Rahul and Priyanka, you had your chance, you blew it. Let someone else do the job

G-23 — came, went, now back again

The G-23, or a group of 23 leaders who had written a dissent note to Sonia Gandhi in 2019, have now become a malleable cohort. Interestingly, the first to leave the group was Jitendra Prasad’s son, Jitin Prasada, who has now moved to the BJP. Some like Shashi Tharoor and Veerappa Moily, who were a part of the group, have also distanced themselves from the G-23 since the 2019 showdown.

However, on Wednesday, a “dinner meet” of the G-23 saw Tharoor and many new faces like Mani Shankar Aiyar, Preneet Kaur and Shankar Singh Vaghela congregate at the home of Ghulam Nabi Azad, also a G-23 member. The attendees, 18 in all, thereafter signed a memo which demanded that the Congress party “initiate dialogue with other like-minded forces to create a platform to pave way for a credible alternative for 2024”.

The memo also said that the only way forward for the Congress party was “collective and inclusive” decision-making.

Since then, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a member of the cohort, has had a meeting with Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad is expected to meet Sonia over the weekend.

It is learnt that even though some members of the group, like Kapil Sibal, have spoken against the Gandhi leadership, most others believe that the Gandhis must continue in the Congress but need to loosen their grip on the party.

“They can’t go, and many in the G-23 believe that there can’t be a Congress without the Gandhis. But the amount of power someone like Rahul wields must change. There should be an arrangement, for example, where a non-Gandhi (or a family loyalist) is working president, CWC chairperson and organisation in charge. They (Gandhis) can still be around, but day-to-day decisions need to be made by people with experience and understanding,” a Congress leader privy to some discussions at the G-23 meeting said.

Also read: Defections are a threat beyond election results today. Here are five ways we can fix it

What can the Congress G-23 achieve?

While it appears that rumblings in the Congress caused by the G-23 will continue, party leaders who didn’t attend Wednesday’s dinner explain why they refused the invite in spite of “being on their side”.

“Most members of that group have largely been Delhi politicians. A politician leaving a party or splitting from a party is only feasible if a large part of their cadre base and mid-level leadership leaves with them. Almost none of the leaders in the G-23 will successfully be able to get party workers or leaders to rally around them. In that case, how will a split or a ‘rebellion’ work?” said one of the Congress leaders who was invited to the dinner.

Many others also say that a formation like the G-23 can’t “do much except opinionate”.

“It’s been almost three years since they wrote that letter. What has happened since? How many elections has the party lost? How many of these leaders have been able to achieve anything of consequence? There has been a lot of talk, but no solution, and it is best for someone like me to keep a distance at such times,” another leader who skipped Wednesday’s dinner said.

With Sonia and Rahul showing the white flag to the G-23 leaders, it looks like this time around, the “talk” may fructify to organisational changes.

But for those who have tracked the Congress over the years, the sense is that some day things will get better but then nothing happens. The current rebellion in the party may just prove it once again.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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