The Indian National Congress is a party at odds with itself. The presidential election process itself is fraught with a great deal of anomalies, it seems. The idea of an election process was almost pushed down the Congress High Command’s gullet and that has not gone down well.
Prime candidate Mallikarjun Kharge has now resigned as the Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House of Parliament and is keenly waiting for the next instruction from his boss, party interim president Sonia Gandhi. Having filed his nomination, Kharge exhorted that the Group of 23 does not exist anymore, that all have merged into the Congress.
So that leaves the other important candidate, MP Sashi Tharoor, in a very awkward position. Tharoor, who had earlier said that he might reconsider about filing his nomination if Rahul Gandhi stood for elections, now sees that the so-called Group of 23 members (all those left) have sided with Kharge. So, considering Kharge is a staunch Gandhi loyalist, the allegations originally raised by the G23 members are today infructuous.
The third candidate KN Tripathi from Jharkhand, an unknown, will remain so, twiddling his thumb.
So what do we get from this? Confusion, of course, that is in the Congress DNA, but as per the erstwhile Theory of Chaos, is this going to get a special result? Unfortunately, no.
Let us break it up.
Two types of loyalists
While following the Indian National Congress presidential election process, one thing was clear. There are two types of Gandhi loyalists. The first type are the old ones, the veterans who believe that the Independence struggle of the Congress gives it and the Gandhi family the right to rule in perpetuity. These are the Sonia Gandhi loyalists. Kharge will fall this category. To an extent, so did Ashok Gehlot, the Rajasthan Chief Minister, possibly Sonia’s first choice.
The second are the Rahul Gandhi loyalists. Remember, when Gehlot went to talk to Rahul, doing his Bharat Jodo Yatra in the south, Rahul reminded him of just one thing: One man, one post. Rahul did not want Gehlot in the hot seat. Question is about what his feelings are regarding Kharge’s candidature.
Meanwhile, poor, erudite statesman and five-time Kerala MP Tharoor, has been brushing up his Hindi, saying that there is no question of a fight, that it is all in the family. Tharoor is a great statesman, but he is nowhere near Kharge as far organisational capabilities go. Though both main candidates are from the south, it is not as if this will anger the north Indian legislators, despite thi3er much larger number. Here is where Sonia’s influence is still strong.
There were others, looking for their place in the sun: Digvijay Singh, a complete Gandhi loyalist, Manish Tiwari, an on-end-off critic of the family, a former I&B minister, former Congress spokesperson and also a G-23 group member. Now that the G23 members have melted into the Congress, that threat is gone, it seems.
The murky run-up
The run up to the election was murky. Initially Gehlot had planned to keep the chief ministership of Rajasthan even as he became Congress president. The other alternative was to allow Sachin Pilot to become CM and Gehlot moves on as CWC head. Sachin is a Rahul man, and one thought this might work. But what happened was shocking. The 92 Gehlot loyalist MLAs – Congress has a strength of 107 in the 200-member assembly – declared that they would resign if ‘gaddar’ Pilot was made CM. The 15 Pilot loyalists were quiet.
This was a reference to Pilot’s ‘revolt’ against Gehlot, in July 2020, a time when he almost joined the BJP. This has been denied, though. While the young brigade has been denied, there seems little fightback.
The 92 Gehlot loyalists even ‘submitted’ their joint resignation, on a sheet pa paper, a letter that has stayed. This move was complete hogwash, because while resigning, an MLA has to do it in a proper format and submit it to the Speaker of the House/the Governor. A signature campaign on a plain sheet of paper is utter nonsense.
The obvious reading of the chaos was that Gehlot was the one who had orchestrated it. That is why Sonia had rebuked him and Gehlot had even apologised publicly. Gehlot was totally disinclined to be Congress President. Also the chief ministership of Rajasthan is a decadent Congress is an important post.
So Gehlot did not file his nomination. In the ‘choice’ of Kharge as top candidate, the Sonia faction has won. Rahul can hardly support Tharoor, now that even the G23 guys are with the octogenarian Kharge. Also, Tharoor has a mind of his own; that is a dangerous mix, along with his erudition, for the old guard of the party.
A farce, yet better than nothing
In the end, this is building up to be a farce of an election process. Even then, there is a lot Kharge can do, with the help of the old and new guard alike. So this will be better than nothing.
Congress has history aplenty, but today, India’s electorate looks for a little more, for hope, for jobs, for financial security, for stability, for peace and harmony. These are the issues of the day, the issues that Congress must tackle, issues that The new Congress president must take head on. There is no escape from confrontation, not this time.
The situation could be quite like what we saw during UPA II with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Even Manmohan, an out and out Gandhi loyalist, one day threatened to quit if his decision on the nuclear deal he had carefully formatted was not allowed to go through. Manmohan, too, is an erudite person, though with no public base. But, sometimes, minions too get disgusted with too much control from the trop.
So Kharge can be controlled, the Gandhi family stays the supreme leaders, this time without even any accountability.
At square one?
These developments, sort of, leaves us back at square one. Will the Congress show any movement? It would have been better had Tharoor been promoted as vice-president of the party. That was the party could have had brains and brawn.
One can recall that in 1980 Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Arjun Singh was also vice-president of the Congress. Rahul was VP in 2013. It would be almost sacrilegious to leave out Tharoor, though 2024 being the target for reform, a bit more brawn could be incorporated.
The Rahul factor
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has seen tremendous response. The way he has mingled with the public, the children on the streets, has done a world of good for his personal image as not just a political leader and a member of the Gandhi family, but also as a sort of crusader.
One hopes the resonance he has gathered in the south continues through to the north. If you look at 2024 – and that is the normal projection – there many more parliament seats in the north, a state that will persist till at least 2026.
Things may change thereafter, because, following the 84th amendment to the Constitution, in 2002, Delimitation is to be done after 2026 if not postponed. The base year will be 2021 population.
Till such time we assume that Rahul will have to contend with the current mix.
That leaves us with the critical question: is it possible for Rahul to try and change the way politics is thought of in this country? Is there a possibility of decency, of more people participation? That thought gives rise to another possibility. Kharge would perpetuate the same type of Congress politics that we have come to know, the same type that has no takers today.
The frank message should be, immediate losses could consolidate into future gains. Give the country a new type of politics. Remember how the Aam Admi Party made headway?
It is not just cleaning up the process and the politics, it is about putting people first. There must be a leaner, saner model available. One needs to keep looking.
October 8 is the last date of nomination withdrawal. Gehlot had, aside, commented that Tharoor may withdraw. Let us see. Elections will be held October 17, with the results being announced on October 19.