What’s the future of the G-22 – minus Jitin Prasada, the 23rd who has joined the Bharatiya Janata Party – in the Congress? The answer: GLOOMY, in all capitals.
Kapil Sibal sought answers from the party leadership for messing up things in the border state of Punjab.
The result: Damaged car, tomatoes, and ‘Leave the Party’ placards held by Youth Congress workers outside his house.
Sibal, an eminent lawyer, may not worry about the car. In 2019-20, he had donated Rs 3 crore to the party fund, while interim president Sonia Gandhi contributed Rs 50,000. De facto Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, a jet-setter who prefers chartered flights, gave Rs 54,000. In 2021-22, Sibal can donate just 100 per cent more than the Gandhis and he will still be left with a lot to get his car repaired. What must hurt him more is the virtual endorsement of the Youth Congress’ hooliganism by the Gandhi family through dogged silence.
A year since the erstwhile G-23 wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi, asking for a full-time president and elections to organisational bodies, the writing on the wall is unmistakable. Ghulam Nabi Azad could get re-nominated to the Rajya Sabha from Tamil Nadu. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which had promised to give one Rajya Sabha seat to the Congress as a consolation prize for the latter contesting only 25 assembly seats, forgot about it, ostensibly. Azad has had good rapport with the DMK leadership since Karunanidhi’s days. If the Congress had made him its candidate, M.K. Stalin would have spared a seat in the Upper House. But the high command wasn’t keen.
Veteran Congress leader Mukul Wasnik and Milind Deora – both G-22 members – were in contention for Rajya Sabha nomination from Maharashtra; the high command opted for Rajani Patil, instead.
So, what are the options before the G-22? Hurt by the pictures of Congress workers shouting slogans outside Sibal’s house, a ‘helpless’ P Chidambaram – not a G-22 member yet – suggested silence is a ‘safe harbour.’ Sibal and his comrades-in-arms aren’t given to silence though. They also know there is no retreat from here. Even in the unlikely scenario of the Gandhis yielding to their demand partially, they’ll be at the mercy of Gandhi siblings. A Gandhi will continue to hold the party’s reins.
Priyanka Gandhi as X-factor
Besides, G-22 must also factor in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Rahul Gandhi wasn’t much successful in getting his mother, Sonia Gandhi, to take drastic steps like dropping or sidelining family loyalists. He would sulk and go for vipassana or jaunts in cool foreign climes. His sister has changed it all.
Thirteen years ago, in 2008, when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had visited one of her father’s killers, Nalini, in a Vellore jail and the two of them cried, Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter was seen as an epitome of compassion and forgiveness. “Why did you do this? Whatever was the reason, it could have been resolved with dialogue,” Priyanka had told Nalini, as reported by The Hindu.
She was 36 then. She retained her strong and intrinsic faith in dialogues to resolve conflicts for over a decade more. Within the party, even when her brother was seeking to replace the old guards lock, stock and barrel, she would reach out to them and seek to be the bridge.
But, since January 2019 when she took the political plunge and was appointed All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary, her party colleagues have noticed a drastic change. In April that year, when Priyanka Chaturvedi, a prominent party face, posted a tweet to express her outrage about the reinstatement of some Congressmen who had been suspended for threatening her, she got a call from Priyanka: “How dare you….” Vadra gave her a mouthful, as I learnt later, even as Chaturvedi remained composed and polite, though firm in her defence of her tweet.
After the Congress’ debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, when the Congress Working Committee (CWC) met in the aftermath of Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, Priyanka slammed veteran leaders for leaving her brother alone in his fight.
Today’s Priyanka looks all determined to re-establish the family’s writ. And she is not averse to staking the Congress, as she showed in Punjab.
Mamata Banerjee’s missive
As it is, G-22 members must feel stuck inside villain Ajit’s ‘liquid oxygen’ tank: “Liquid isko jeene nahin dega, aur oxygen isko marne nahin dega.” The Gandhis won’t let them survive in the Congress and their loyalty and core ideological beliefs won’t let them quit. That’s where West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is offering them an olive branch to hold on to. ThePrint reported Friday how the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is in touch with the G-22 members.
They confirmed it to this author, too: “Yes, a lot of people are working on it.” It’s a matter of time before many of them walk out of the Congress. They, like former Goa chief minister Luizinho Faleiro, could maintain that even as TMC leaders, they remain Congress persons, with the same ideology and principles but with a different leader (Mamata) who knows how to defeat the BJP. Faleiro’s dream of uniting the old Congress family – Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Amarinder Singh, and K Chandrashekar Rao, among others — may sound like a political fantasy but come to think of it: Why not?
They make for a more harmonious gang with shared beliefs from the past than the opportunistic power-driven alliances voters loathe. The Gandhis may be right, to an extent, that most of G-22 – plus many more who haven’t joined this group formally yet – have few options outside. Most can’t join the BJP due to political/ideological compulsions and the saffron party doesn’t have much to offer to those who can. And only a select few have the wherewithal to float a new party. Mamata Banerjee does look like a viable option for them.
Besides, think of how the old Congress family group can swell if the Gandhi siblings fail to address the leadership tussles in other states, too – Ashok Gehlot/Sachin Pilot (Rajasthan), Bhupesh Baghel/TS Singh Deo (Chhattisgarh), DK Shivakumar/Siddaramaiah (Karnataka), Bhupinder Singh Hooda (Haryana), Ramesh Chennithala and Oommen Chandy (Kerala), Amarinder Singh (Punjab), and so on and so forth.
Every time Mamata Banerjee’s name is tossed up as a prime ministerial face, a counter-argument comes: Who will vote for her outside West Bengal? Well, let’s ask the same question about Rahul Gandhi and name even one state where they surely will. There is another argument that the Congress is still the BJP’s biggest challenger as it has 20 per cent core vote shares in parliamentary elections. Moot point is: Do these people vote for the Congress or the Gandhis? It’s a question better left unanswered.
The Congress does have a huge legacy as a party that led India’s Independence movement and a section of voters still prefer its secular, pluralistic outlook with respect for democratic institutions (with some aberrations in the past, of course). But do the Gandhis today represent this idea of the Congress, which can defeat the BJP? One can almost hear the tremble in ‘ayes’.
Can Mamata Banerjee, possibly flanked by many regional satraps mentioned above, represent the same in future? Gandhis may think they are the link between their party’s present and glorious past. As it is, the Modi-led BJP has turned it around, making them the symbol of everything – dynasty, corruption, cronyism, authoritarianism, and everything that’s gone wrong with the country. It’s unfair, of course. The Gandhis may argue that they are a victim of well-organised, sustained propaganda. They may not be totally wrong. But the fact is, they have miserably failed to counter it.
The old Congress family, if at all they get together, won’t have this baggage, at least.
For the G-22 though, there is a catch. If the Gandhis treat dissent as an offence, Banerjee sees it as a mutiny. Her party workers don’t respond with tomatoes; they prefer it much louder.
The author tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)