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Margaret Alva’s Congress Comeback Shows Rahul Gandhi’s Mission Election Has Room for All

The fear within the seniors in the party was that when Rahul takes over, they would all have to pack their bags. A fear that was confirmed when Rahul famously tore the ordinance being presented by then PM Manmohan Singh at Press Club while a shocked and embarrassed Ajay Maken looked on.

Pallavi Ghosh | CNN-News18_pallavighosh

Updated:February 28, 2018, 7:14 AM IST
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Margaret Alva’s Congress Comeback Shows Rahul Gandhi’s Mission Election Has Room for All
File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. (Photo: Reuters)
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New Delhi: The team that will prepare the Congress strategy for Karnataka elections has the name of a member many may have missed at first glance, that of former Governor and one-time Sonia Gandhi loyalist-turned-critic Margaret Alva.

Alva had a bitter breakup with Sonia after her son was denied a ticket for the 2008 state election. In a public outburst, she had asked whether her son was a terrorist to be overlooked. In her book, Courage and Commitment, released in June 2016, she had attacked Sonia several times.

“Times have changed and for the first time I have come to feel like a misfit in an organisation that I considered as precious as my own home. A look at our recent candidate lists show a distinct pattern of patronages to the wealthy and rich lobbies like mining, education and real-estate...”

As noisy her exit had been, her comeback has been equally silent. Her name was included in the Congress’ election committee list that was announced without any fanfare.

According to sources, Alva’s re-entry is part of a “well-thought out” plan by Congress president Rahul Gandhi. At a recent meeting with general secretaries of his party, he made it clear that the mission for Congress was to win elections and all those who have and can contribute should be brought back.

“Congress is a large party and can accommodate differing points of view as long as they still hold the party ideology,” he is said to have told his close aides.

More examples of this approach are Ashok Chavan and Arvinder Singh Lovely, who are no longer political pariahs.

There could be more in the offing too. Rahul has decided to reach out to some allies he has cold shouldered in the past, sources told News18.

Sharad Pawar and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD are no longer untouchable for him. Same is the case with Asaduddin Owaisi. Jagan Reddy, too, is being tapped and Madhu Yakshi has been encouraged to reach out to him.

The new partnerships are part of Rahul’s strategy to build an axis of allies everywhere. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, the ideal situation would be Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress coming together.

Political analyst Rasheed Kidwai, who has closely watched both Sonia and Rahul, said no two regimes have a similar style of functioning and the new Congress chief’s approach is reflective of it.

“Look at Nehru-Indira, Indira-Rajiv or Rajiv-Sonia. Similarly, the Rahul era will be drastically different from the Sonia era. Both at subconscious and functional levels, a new leader tends to make amends and course correction from his predecessor,” he said.

The irony is that Sonia during her tenure as Congress president was considered to be accommodating and someone who upholds the status quo, and it was Rahul Gandhi who was viewed as abrupt and impulsive.

The fear within the seniors in the party was that when Rahul takes over, they would all have to pack their bags.
A fear that was confirmed when Rahul famously tore the ordinance being presented by then PM Manmohan Singh at Press Club while a shocked and embarrassed Ajay Maken looked on. This was also the time when Congress was looking to form an alliance with Lalu.

Sonia always considered Lalu has her strongest ally and despite the corruption charges against him, she believed he was not a fair-weather ally.

A belief that Rahul rejected in private. Sources say Rahul and Sonia had a huge disagreement over this. A senior leader said in confidence, “The incident really shook us. We saw it coming for us.”
So as speculation of Rahul taking charge grew, so did planting of stories of old guard versus the new. But in politics, compromises have to be made. Sonia did when she took over and realised that she couldn’t show contempt for some of her colleagues the same way as Rajiv or Indira did. But the Sonia style of dragging her feet when it came to tolerating dissent or indiscipline earned her criticism.

Rahul has made it clear that he will not hesitate to take disciplinary action, like he did with Mani Shankar Aiyar for his ‘neech’ comment at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But when it comes to those who could help the party recover, Rahul’s Congress is happy to reach out. At a recent meeting, he made it clear to Sonia and the old guard that while he would want to see new faces, old was gold too.

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