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As Rajasthan Storm Settles, Some Clarity in Congress Over Rahul Gandhi’s Role, Party’s Future Faces

Sonia Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi. (Reuters)

Sonia Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi. (Reuters)

The three Congress committee members who were sent to Jaipur to fix the problem and who parked themselves there for over a month were handpicked by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, and are considered to be Rahul’s closest aide.

A storm is a sudden and strong gust of wind which leaves behind a calm, sometimes accompanied by havoc. The one which hit Rajasthan lasted for little over a month and is now witnessing calm but it rests uneasy.

On the face of it, it may not have created havoc but the chances of another storm coming cannot be ruled out. The top Congress leadership has set up a three-member committee to ensure that all factors that led to this storm and the possibility of another hitting are ruled out.

The members of the committee are an important indication that the top leadership wants to be seen as paying heed to concerns raised by Sachin Pilot and his MLAs. First, the change. Avinash Pandey, who is considered close to the chief minister and the old guard, has now been replaced. Ajay Maken, who is seen as Rahul Gandhi’s person, has replaced Pandey. This fulfils one of the demands of the Pilot camp that Avinash Pandey should go. The other member of the committee is KC Venugopal, again Rahul Gandhi’s man. He was recently made Rajya Sabha MP as Rahul wanted him to be.

But the Rajasthan crisis has set into motion a new order in the Congress. This could lead to the final and possible appointment of Rahul as the party president, which so far has no specific time frame. In Rahul’s previous avatar as the party president, one big criticism was that he wasn’t surrounded by advisors who had been toughened in crisis resolution. During the Rajasthan crisis, it were the old guards and seniors who diffused the situation.

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The one thing Rajasthan crisis seems to have changed is this: The three committee members who were sent to Jaipur to fix the problem and who parked themselves there for over a month were handpicked by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, and are considered to be Rahul’s closest aide.

KC Venugopal is Rahul gandhi’s colleague from the state Kerala. Randeep Surjewala, who heads the media department, is said to be the eyes and ears of Rahul. The fact that he agreed to contest from Jind — despite knowing he was bound to lose from that seat — just because Rahul wanted it, has earned him brownie points. Now let’s come to the third member, Ajay Maken. He is the only one among the three with an experience of being a cabinet minister at the Centre. He has now been given charge of the desert state.

While one cannot discount the contribution of Ahmed Patel and Ashok Gehlot in diffusing the crisis, the face of the crisis management were these three handpicked leaders. Sources say they have a bigger role to play in future as well. They were given a virtual free hand and were the link between the Gandhis and the state leadership to diffuse the crisis.

From addressing the media and keeping the MLAs engaged to chalking out a legal strategy, the trio could well become the base of the team that Rahul would fall back on. But there are several others who are now being tapped and built as a team for the Gandhi scion.

Street fighters and leaders such as Manickam Tagore, Ajay Lallu, Srinivas and DK Shivkumar are expected to play important roles in days to come. Sources say that while Rahul doesn’t want a complete break from the seniors, the replacements are already being chalked out. An organsiational reshuffle is on the cards and more new faces are likely to be used.

Most importantly, as Sachin Pilot’s comeback showed, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will play an important role in the party and it will be team effort of Rahul and Priyanka hence on. As Congress struggles to sort out its leadership issue, a team is already being built. Another storm may only just strengthen the team or test it.

first published:August 17, 2020, 08:28 IST