Rahul Gandhi is making a concerted bid to return as the 87th president of the AICC or the All India Congress Committee. The attempt to take centre stage in Parliament, on farmers’ issue, China and a range of other subjects indicates the young Gandhi’s intent to become a polarizing figure, instead of a popular face, against Narendra Modi.
This was an advice offered to him way back in 2012 when Stephanie Cutter, a reputed political consultant who served as a deputy campaign manager in Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, had visited his 12, Tughlaq Crescent office-cum-residence. The UPA was then in power and Rahul Gandhi somehow could not follow Cutter’s guidance.
Also bracing for a bigger and visible role is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Rahul-Priyanka duopoly is set to replace the now nearly defunct Sonia-Rahul power equation that was largely steered by late Ahmed Patel and Motilal Vora. In Rahul Gandhi’s scheme of things, Priyanka is likely to play the multiple roles that were performed by Patel and Vora—acting as an interface between the leader (Rahul) and party, a crisis manager, a listening post, and an effective number two. There is a growing viewpoint in the Congress that Priyanka Gandhi’s ‘Mission Uttar Pradesh’ has outlived its utility. Contrary to a perception perpetuated by a section of media, Priyanka Gandhi had not harboured any ambition to be a leader or a chief ministerial nominee in Uttar Pradesh.
In Priyanka Gandhi’s scheme of things, if and when the Congress succeeds in Uttar Pradesh, incumbent UPCC (Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee) chief Ajay Kumar Lallu would be bestowed with the fruits of his labour, sacrifice and grit. In doing so, she hopes to set an example of how regional satraps can be built, nurtured and rewarded. As a student of Congress’ contemporary history, Priyanka Gandhi is well aware that the ‘good old days’ of the grand old party can only be revived if the likes of Ajay Lallu are found across the length and breadth of the country, in every state, district and taluka.
Ajay Kumar Lallu is a diligent Hindi-speaking OBC leader, an elected representative, with grassroots’ connection. In the last five years, Lallu has spent more time in jail than most UPCC chiefs put together in the post-Independence era!
After the completion of the assembly polls in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala, the AICC organisational polls are set to be announced and completed between June and August 2021. If the Congress does well in Kerala and becomes part of the winning alliance in Tamil Nadu and retains Puducherry, clamour for Rahul Gandhi ‘dobara’ would gain momentum. On the other hand, an adverse verdict in all the five poll-bound states has the potential of making the Congress a ‘no-hoper’, leading to greater and louder disquiet in the grand old party.
The term of the new president will, however, last till December 2022. As per Article XVIII [h] of the Congress constitution, a ‘regular president’ needs to be elected by an electoral college consisting of AICC delegates numbering around 1300. Rahul Gandhi was elected the 87th president of the AICC in December 2017 for a period of five years. He had resigned in May 2019, taking responsibility for the Lok Sabha poll debacle. Since then, ‘interim’ AICC chief Sonia Gandhi has been heading the party.
The Congress leadership is keeping a hawkish eye on G23, a group of dissenters who had raised the banner of revolt against the Gandhis in August 2020. While some dissenters have been co-opted, Gandhis are reportedly aware that the appointment of Mallikarjun Kharge as the leader of the opposition (LoP) in the Rajya Sabha has not gone down well with the G23. Anand Sharma, who is a deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, was hoping to get elevated.
Sources in the Congress establishment say the dissenters missed a chance in demanding election for the leader of the Congress (who is also the LoP). If Sharma, Kapil Sibal and others had urged Sonia Gandhi, who is the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) chairperson, to hold election among the 37 party MPs in the upper house, she would have to consider their demand. As a tepid sop, Sonia Gandhi has decided to retain Sharma as Kharge’s deputy. Sharma’s term ends in April 2022 when Shaktisinh Gohil is likely to succeed him.