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As Past Returns to Haunt Congress, Rahul Must Break Deafening Silence

File photo of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and party's vice president Rahul Gandhi (PTI Photo)

File photo of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and party's vice president Rahul Gandhi (PTI Photo)

On Thursday, a senior Congress leader called up Kapil Sibal and asked whether he was organising a dinner for fellow Congressmen. Sibal denied organising any such dinner.

New Delhi: On Thursday, a senior Congress leader called up Kapil Sibal and asked whether he was organising a dinner for fellow Congressmen. Sibal denied organising any such dinner. Behind this seemingly innocuous question was a fear and rumour. The rumour was that disgruntled Congress leaders were getting together to chalk out their future within the party and, possibly, even outside.

As it turned out, the rumour was just that. It, however, revealed the simmering worry within the Congress — that nothing is happening yet. A senior Congress leader said: “We have not yet met after 2014 to figure out what happened. After Uttar Pradesh, the wait and silence is deafening.

“As an old Congressi, I am hurt and upset. The time has come for a drastic change,” Satyavrat Chaturvedi told News18.

The problem is this change doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon. As desertions rise, all wonder when the Gandhis will crack the whip. On the threshold of Delhi municipal elections, which give the Congress the chance to upstage the Aam Aadmi Party, the scene has been marred by exodus of several leaders who were unhappy with ticket distribution. Again, the silence of Rahul Gandhi perturbs his party colleagues.

There are big state elections coming up ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls; Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka to name a few. The party has yet to meet to chalk out a plan. In fact, many Congress leaders are still waiting for that phone call which will set up a stock-taking meeting.

“I stayed back for a couple of days after the 2014 results expecting an All India Congress Committee (AIICC) or a Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting to figure out what went wrong. It was in vain as almost three years later we haven’t met,” said a senior Congress leader.

What is the reason behind this silence and inactivity? Is Rahul planning anything?

Sources say Rahul has been meeting people to figure out what needs to be done. The first big challenge for him is to give the party a new look and reinvent it. This is where the trouble begins. While it’s easy to find voices that blame Rahul, not many seniors are willing to concede that they are the biggest obstacle to this much-needed change within the party.

As results for the UP elections poured in and it became clear that the Congress was facing yet another humiliating defeat, a senior leader drove to the party headquarters with a smirk on his face. In Rahul's fall lay his redemption.

Those close to Rahul point out that each time he has spoken to Sonia Gandhi about the need to remove ‘deadwood’, she has stepped in to stop it. Sonia, who has had a conciliatory style while running the party, doesn’t quite agree with Rahul's staccato style. Sources close to her say she is worried that Rahul may not be able to pull it off if the old guard gangs up against him. In fact, when the rumour surfaced that Kapil Sibal was hosting a party for the disgruntled Congressmen, discreet queries came in from 10 Janpath to find out who were attending the party and what was on the platter. This in itself shows the insecurity at the top.

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The mishandling of the Goa government formation has added to the worry. Sources close to Sonia say that if she were in charge “she would have ensured that this didn’t happen”. “She has always been hands-on,” a source said.

But then, those close to Rahul point out that he was never kept in the loop. He was informed only last minute, by which time things had already slipped out. A member from Rahul's team says, “It’s not that he is unaware that something needs to be done right now. But then, he is trying to finally work things out.”

Rahul and Priyanka realise the need to reinvent the party. They have realised that merely criticising the PM on every issue won’t work. They have realised that Narendra Modi is yet to reach his saturation point. He still enjoys a charisma and the recent UP polls show that the more they criticise him, the more it helps him. LK Advani's constant attacks on former prime minister Manmohan Singh as being a “weak PM” earned him sympathy and brought him back to power with a huge margin in 2009. The past has come to haunt the Congress.

Sources say the Congress will now, along with attacking the PM, try to reinvent itself. It will now try to project itself as a progressive party offering an idea. What that idea will be, no one has any idea yet.

But the first step Rahul and his party need to take now is to break the silence.