“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position,” said Canadian motivational speaker Brian Tracy.
As some of the truncated group of 23 dissenters, now 22 with the exit of Jitin Prasada, met to discuss the state of the Congress, most agreed that the present leadership had failed to inspire. And it’s not just because one of the Gandhis is neither the party president nor holds any post in it. Yet, Rahul Gandhi calls the shots.
Two states and the situation of the Congress here best exemplifies what happens when leadership gets weak. The strength of a leader in the party comes from their ability to win elections. Sonia Gandhi for almost 10 years that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power had an iron grip over the party because the success of the coalition was attributed to her. To her went the credit of ensuring that the Congress was a winning horse. But with Rahul Gandhi, that grip has loosened so much that not many of the old warhorses are willing to listen to them. Two Lok Sabha polls were lost with disastrous results, state polls were a washout. Even Kerala, which usually sees a cyclical pattern and which is now the home state of Rahul Gandhi, failed to fall into the lap of the Congress. Sources say that the members of the group of 23 were willing to give time to the top leadership given the second wave of Covid and the havoc it caused. But as things improved, they could not avoid getting into a huddle to make the point that the Congress leadership just doesn’t care. Kapil Sibal told News18.com, “I will continue to raise my voice. The leadership can only grow when it listens." He told some reporters later that while it was okay to form committees to figure out the poll loss, the committees must yield results. It’s been almost a month, yet no heads have rolled, nor have changes been made.
Sources say that patience is running thin and now the so-called dissidents have decided to step up their concerns and become more vocal. One such member told News18.com, “We have nothing to lose. We want no post, we just hope that the Congress becomes stronger. But there seems to be no attempt to make it stronger. We will never join the BJP but what can we do? How can we watch helplessly?”
The helplessness of the Gandhis becomes apparent with the situation and crisis in Rajasthan and Punjab. Over 10 months ago, when Sachin Pilot and his supporters rebelled, the Gandhis stepped in and drew an agreement to ensure that the Ashok Gehlot government was safe and Pilot remained with the Congress. But no attempt by the Gehlot government has been seen since then to bring in a cabinet reshuffle or fill up boards and commissions with Pilot supporters. Sources say repeated reminders by the central leadership to Gehlot bore little result. A weakened Gandhi family could not apply much pressure on Gehlot as they need him more than perhaps he would need them. When you lose elections and are no longer seen as a leader who can ensure a poll win, state satraps begin to flex their muscles. There was a phone call from Sonia Gandhi, who appealed to Gehlot to make an attempt to reach out to Pilot. Gehlot finally asked for report cards of his ministers to ensure that nonperformers are shown the door and some of Pilot’s aides are brought in. But the shrewd Gehlot knows that even if Pilot’s aides join his cabinet, over time their loyalty will be to him as chief minister. This leads to the second part of the agreement, i.e., Pilot to be made CM towards the fag end of the term of the government. This may be tough for the Gandhis to negotiate. And the wily Gehlot has now gone into a two-month quarantine, which means he remains out of bounds to his detractors and even to the Gandhis.
Then there’s Punjab, where Captain Amarinder Singh’s position has been somewhat undermined by bringing the turmoil to Delhi. There have been several complaints against the Punjab CM but any attempts by the Gandhis to rein him in have met with little success. So much so that even a compromise formula that has been worked out and is awaiting finalisation reveals the fact that despite many dissenting voices, the Gandhis cannot ignore the clout of the Captain. There could be two deputy CMs of which one could be Navjot Sidhu. But it’s clear that with two deputy CMs, Sidhu won’t be a clear number 2. Also, the new Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief is likely to be someone who has the Captain’s approval.
Rajasthan and Punjab and the stern stand taken by Gehlot and Captain show the weakness of the Gandhis. And this is what the group of 22 raised at their latest meeting. But the biggest problem is, and the question which they could not answer was, if not the Gandhis then who? And with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee clearly reaching out to non-Congress, non-BJP leaders, the possibility of the Congress being pushed out further with a weakened leadership cannot be ruled out. Losers don’t win over friends and allies easily.