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4-min read

OPINION | Adept at Power by Proxy, Nehru-Gandhis Nowhere Near Giving Up Cash and Control in Congress

Insiders claim that the new Congress president is expected to keep the seat warm until one of the Gandhis is ready to take back control.

Kalyani Shankar |

Updated:July 7, 2019, 3:02 PM IST
OPINION | Adept at Power by Proxy, Nehru-Gandhis Nowhere Near Giving Up Cash and Control in Congress
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Robert Vadra arrive to pay tribute to the late Rajiv Gandhi on his birth anniversary at Veer Bhumi, in New Delhi on August 20, 2018. (PTI)

Will the Gandhi family give up its hold on the 134-year-old Congress party? It seems not as the stakes are high for the family, which has been at the helm of affairs for many decades.

According to insiders, Sonia Gandhi is not very happy that son Rahul Gandhi is adamant on quitting. Did she not keep the seat warm for her son from 1998 and was jubilant when she handed over the baton to him in December 2017? Rahul’s resignation has plunged the party in to an unprecedented crisis.

While much has been made of Rahul’s high-profile resignation move, look at the way things are at present. Sonia Gandhi was elected a fortnight ago as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party consisting of members of both Houses. This happened after the 2019 electoral rout. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has been appointed as the General Secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh in January, continues though she has failed to deliver even in Amethi where Rahul Gandhi lost the family pocket-borough to Union minister Smriti Irani.

Rahul, has made it clear that he will continue to be active, which the new Congress president should take note of. Above all, it will not suit the family to have someone other than a family loyalist replace Rahul Gandhi.

Sonia, by her experiment in making Manmohan Singh the prime minister in 2004 and 2009, has realised that the best way to enjoy power is to remain outside and rule through dummies. In any case, of the three Gandhis, two members of the family — Sonia and Priyanka — continue to hold positions. So by and large, the party is still in the hands of the family.

Why will the Gandhis hold on to the party? First of all, they have enjoyed unbridled power for decades and know that it is the family which keeps the party united. Many Congress leaders would rather accept a Gandhi than one among them due to peer rivalry. Even during the seven years from 1991-98 when Sonia was not in politics, many Congress leaders kept in touch with her.

Both Rao and Kesari found how difficult it was to run the Grand Old Party as a non-Gandhi. Whether in power or out of power, the Gandhi family had its hold over the party. When Rao became the party president and prime minister from 1991-1996, he found to his dismay that Sonia loyalists always ran to 10 Janpath, which was seen as a rival power centre.

Insiders say that Arjun Singh and ND Tiwari launched the Congress T with the blessings of Sonia Gandhi. Rao’s successor Sitaram Kesari, who was unceremoniously thrown out by Sonia loyalists when she was brought in to lead the party in 1998, also faced problems. Mamata Banerjee launched her Trinamool Congress in 1998 keeping 10 Janpath fully informed. When Sonia resigned after Sharad Pawar questioned her foreign origin in 1999, only after Pawar and his supporters were thrown out did she take back her resignation. The party solidly stood by Sonia.

Secondly, the purse strings may continue to remain with the family. The new party president may have to depend on the Gandhis for even day-to-day running of the party. With the Congress ruling only in half-a-dozen states, the party is not flush with funds right now. With elections in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra round the corner, the job of the new president is unenviable.

Thirdly, senior leaders in the party realise that with the three Gandhis looming large, the family would not give up their hold over the party. While every other leader, including Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi faced challengers, there is not a single leader, junior or senior, who has revolted against Rahul Gandhi despite the continuous slide of the party.

The old guard might be disenchanted with Rahul’s style of functioning and his rootless coterie, but none of them have challenged him openly. So they are reconciled to playing the courtiers and to help choose a Gandhi loyalist as the next party president. Rahul Gandhi last year had nominated members of the Congress Working Committee and it is this body which will choose his successor. That is why names like Gandhi loyalists Sushil Kumar Shinde and Mallikarjun Kharge are doing the rounds for the next Congress president.

Insiders claim that the new president is expected to keep the seat warm until one of the Gandhis is ready to take back control. The minute they show independence, they would be thrown out like Kesari was removed in 1998.

Kesari was dumbfounded when he found that within minutes of his removal, his nameplate in the AICC was also hastily replaced with a shining brass nameplate of Sonia Gandhi.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is critical of the dynasty, it is clear that the dynasty cannot be wished away as far as the Congress is concerned. The moral of the story is that the Congress cannot do without the family and the family cannot give up the party.

(The author is a political analyst. Views are personal)

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| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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