“It’s something I have been awaiting for years." This was Sonia Gandhi’s reaction on the day of voting for the Congress presidential polls. In 22 years, for the first time since 1998, a non-Gandhi will be party president. But the question is whether the Congress can ever be Gandhi-mukt. Can a party that has revolved and evolved around the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty cut its umbilical cord from the Gandhis?
The last time it was tried, it met with little success. This was in 2004 when the Congress stumped many by winning the polls. Since Sonia Gandhi had formed the UPA and stitched the alliance, it was believed to be a foregone conclusion that she would be the Prime Minister. But when during a packed Congress parliamentary party meeting Sonia Gandhi said she was listening to her “inner voice and saying no to being the PM”, some tears were shed. Some genuine some for appearance’s sake. Then began the rush to find the perfect PM. Sonia Gandhi’s choice fell on the low-profile, respected Dr Manmohan Singh. This stunned many in the party, some who were silently hoping to become the PM. One among them was certainly the late Pranab Mukherjee who got the tag of “eternal PM in waiting".
But those who could not accept “apolitical" Manmohan Singh as PM— many in the cabinet couldn’t digest the fact that their contemporary would be their boss— devised a plan. They told Sonia Gandhi, “we need your guidance. You formed the UPA, your ideas brought many parties like DMK and TRS together with us, so we need your support so that the government can work.” This is when the NAC or the National Advisory Council was born. Its office was just opposite that of Sonia’s 10 Janpath residence and many tips and “suggestions” began to go to 7 RCR as it was then called. For example, when the economist PM felt in 2006 that the oil prices should not be slashed, the NAC felt otherwise. The PM had reservations over where the budget for the ambitious food security bill would come from, but the Gandhis pushed for it. The famous tearing up of an ordinance by Rahul Gandhi which would debar criminals from contesting polls was an example of the Gandhis calling the shots. So the UPA gave the impression of being run from 10 Janpath and later 12 Tughlaq Lane. It was called “remote control ki sarkar" and this tag proved to be its undoing.
Cut to present times. While Mallikarjun Kharge seems to be having the edge, he has already seen the future. Hence it comes as little surprise that he said, “I have no hesitation in taking help and advice of the Gandhis.” Kharge belongs to the old guard of the Congress. He, like most, is aware of the Sitaram Kesri episode where a small group of “loyalists” had emerged and in the name of protecting the party had pushed Sonia Gandhi into active politics. The real reason was to keep themselves relevant.
The reality is that the Congress has a crab mentality. One person rises, and another is ready to pull him/her down. And in such a situation, it’s quite possible that Kharge may soon find himself facing opposition and scrutiny from some of those who are now pitching for him. In case of Shashi Tharoor being the president, the fall from grace would perhaps be quicker.
So despite the fact that Sonia Gandhi is happy to give up the seat, Rahul Gandhi wants to concentrate on the Bharat Jodo Yatra and being a mere party worker, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wants to look after Uttar Pradesh, do some poll campaigns, many in the party would want to keep the Gandhis relevant because it would keep them relevant. The question is, how long will the honeymoon period last? As a top source said, “Sonia Gandhi is UPA chairperson and leader of the parliamentary party. This means she is very much around.”
A Gandhi Parivar-mukt Congress is far away from reality.
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