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Rajasthan and Haryana Challenges Offer a Glimpse at Rahul Gandhi’s Reluctance to Lead Congress

Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. (File: PTI)

Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. (File: PTI)

Rahul Gandhi cannot let go of the elders in the party till a new group is ready to take charge. And that’s his biggest dilemma.

Pallavi Ghosh

Late Wednesday evening, the Congress announced a list of secretaries and general secretaries for Rajasthan. It found a balance between Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot supporters with some neutrals thrown in. But this is just part of the problem solved. The real thorny and more difficult issue to be sorted out is that of whether Pilot will get what he wants and will Gehlot make way for him?

Near Delhi, at the Singhu border, the media department head of Congress and Haryana leader Randeep Surjewala was seen mixing with the protesting farmers, even serving hem food. He released an emotive postcard video series which depicted his concern and support for the farmers. Interestingly, the Hoodas the people who can actually offer the formidable alternative to the BJP in the state, are not seen as much.

The party is also not showcasing their presence at the protest spots. Underlying this is the rivalry which no one wants to talk about but everyone is aware that could tip the scales in favour of the BJP in the next state polls even as Khattar’s unpopularity rises.

In the midst of all this is the wait for Rahul Gandhi, who is on a brief vacation, according to the party. The preparations for the presidential polls are underway, but it’s still not clear whether Gandhi is ready to take charge as president again. Not that it matters, say some party insiders, as practically all decisions are taken by him and the go-to person usually for any crisis is now the brother-sister duo.

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These two states are mentioned for a reason. One is waiting to be won and the other is waiting for the personality clash between Gehlot and Pilot to be sorted out. But underlying these two is the age-old problem of the Congress: lack of clarity on what decision to take. This is where the Congress usually loses out because of its own faultlines driven by personality clashes.

Let’s talk about Rajasthan first. Ajay Maken was made the general secretary in charge of the state after Pilot told the Gandhis that his predecessor Avinash Pandey was biased and did not have the required stature. Maken, who is close to the Gandhis, was roped in and he has held several meetings since then. While his biggest challenge is to see whether the leadership tussle can be sorted out, he has tried to bring some peace by announcing Pradesh in charges by balancing both the camps.

But this truce may not last long. It’s a known fact now that Gandhis had reassured Pilot that his time would come. The question his supporters are asking is ‘when’? The Cabinet reshuffle has yet to take place to accommodate Pilot’s men, which would add to his muscle in the state considering that he no longer holds any post.

Gehlot is not keen to let go of the CM chair and has even scotched any talk of him shifted to Delhi, where someone experienced and mature is needed after Ahmed Patel’s demise. There is also a view in the Congress that there should be a cooling off period before Pilot is given what he wants.

“You cannot rebel and get what you demand immediately. This would set a wrong precedence”. But sources close to Pilot say he is getting impatient and is unlikely to remain silent for long. Rahul Gandhi would have to sort this out immediately. If he takes charge as president, some say Pilot should be his aide. But Pilot is not too keen to shift to Delhi and leave Rajasthan to Gehlot.

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There is also the question of what Rahul Gandhi wants. When he had quit as party chief after the 2019 poll debacle, he was angry because he felt the so-called ‘old guard’ did not value his thoughts. He has pitched for a generational change, especially after the ‘Group of 23’ rebelled last year. If he has to keep his word for this change, then Pilot’s takeover is inevitable. But Gehlot is no pushover. He has the muscle, he has the support and he has the MLAs. Gandhi’s job gets tougher.

The situation in Haryana is stranger. Bhupinder Hooda was one of the signatories to the letter of dissent to Sonia Gandhi, asking for sweeping changes in the party. His son Deepender, however, has remained close to Rahul Gandhi.

It’s a known fact that in Haryana the Hoodas matter and they are the ones who can put up a fight to the BJP. In the last polls, it was touch and go. Congress and Hooda was very confident that they could form the government with help from Dushyant Chautala. There were backroom talks taking place, and a confident Hooda even met his supporters, offering them sweets.

But then Chautala went with Khattar. Hoodas, in private, blamed the slow pace of the party. He told some people that he kept waiting for some nod or support from the Gandhis, but it was too late in coming. In fact, the frosty relations between Bhupinder Hooda and Rahul Gandhi was blamed by his supporters. Some say he was upset by the fact that Rahul Gandhi never called him to congratulate for the good performance of the in the elections.

Since then, things have gotten worse with the letter being signed by the elder Hooda. And now with Randeep Surjewala grabbing the limelight, Hoodas are even more upset. Randeep readily contested the by-election from Jind, which was seen as a political disaster. He also lost his traditional constituency of Kaithal.

But he won the heart of Rahul Gandhi for saying ‘yes boss’. Randeep’s stock has since risen within the party. Apart from his proximity to the Gandhis, he was made in charge of the important state of Karnataka. He was also sent to Bihar during the assembly election.

But Congress’ poor performance there has led to many throwing darts at him. When the so-called rebels recently met Sonia Gandhi, they asked why those who were sent as in charge of elections not be held accountable when they failed to deliver? Rahul Gandhi was also present in this meeting.

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Though elections in Haryana are still some time away, if unchecked, the rivalry between the two leaders could cost the party electorally. At the meeting with Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi reassured the seniors present that he valued them and that he understood their value as they had worked with his father.

But the elders are looking for more for now. They want their space, and in Haryana Hoodas won’t accept that Randeep will be projected as an alternative to them. In fact, in the last state polls, Bhupinder Hooda had thrown a tantrum and insisted that he should have a free hand in deciding the tickets and should be projected as the main face of the party in the state. The Congress leadership had to buckle under his pressure.

These two challenges offer a glimpse into what Rahul Gandhi will face if and when he takes charge of the party. The reality is that Congress has not been able to build a second rung of leadership. The attempts made by Rahul Gandhi in the past by way of youth Congress elections have failed. He cannot let go of the elders till a new group is ready to take charge. And that’s his biggest dilemma, which is why many think Rahul Gandhi’s reluctance to take charge remains.

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