Can The Congress Silence Its Critics?

When I came to the house and found that my seat had been changed, I was wondering why. When I sat there (pointing to the government benches), I felt safe. Now I am next to the opposition. Then I realized that I have been sent to the sarhad (border). That is because only the bravest and strongest warrior is sent to the border,” quipped Sachin Pilot during the floor test, on August 14.

Pilot’s reply- a day after his reunion with Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot- to the jeering from the rival BJP members with regards to his seating near the opposition benches, observes say, was aimed, equally, at the BJP and Gehlot. The Congress and Gehlot surely know what Pilot meant.

Incidentally, after almost a month long high drama, trading of charges and counter charges, resort parleying and numbers crunching, the ‘reunion’ of Pilot, thanks to the delayed, yet, critical intervention by Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, has come as a much needed ‘good news’ for the beleaguered party. It’s indeed, something to cheer about, for the Congressmen as well as Pilot’s supporters.

For some years, apart from Rahul, Jyotiraditya Scindia (who jumped to the BJP recently), Pilot, Milind Deora etc, have been projected time and time again by Congress watchers as the Young Turks and ‘the future of the party’. Perhaps the party failed to maintain a balance between its ‘old guard’ and the younger faces, and both Scindia and Pilot hinted at being sidelined by the leadership. After the exit of Scindia, it’s extremely critical for the Congress to ensure that Pilot or other young faces didn’t follow suit.

Surprisingly, the Congress, which had ruled the country and majority of the states for the longest period of time since independence, after been thrashed to a new low since 2014 and again in 2019, doesn’t seem to be in a mood to stand united. That perception, at least, the party has created in the people. That the party hasn’t gone for a perceptible course correction is baffling.

Congress knows its weak link-Rahul Gandhi. Against the all powerful Narendra Modi juggernaut, Rahul as a leader has failed to inspire confidence in the voters and the Congressmen alike, hence he and his party has to face defeats almost in every elections.

Interestingly, in the past, he would be absent in the middle of some of the important issues. His performance in the Parliament is not encouraging, either.

What’s worse, having already lost Madhya Pradesh due to exit of Scindia, the Congress failed to see the impending problems to its government in Rajasthan. Madhya Pradesh episode was a wake of call, Congress should have taken all steps so that MP history didn’t repeat again.

The affairs within the grand old party and the repeated poll reversals must have created severe doubts in the minds of younger leaders about their own future. They have created a niche for themselves- remember some of them had a stint in the UPA government, too. If ignored or sidelined for a longer period, it’s all but natural for them to look for the available alternatives, elsewhere. They have ambitions too.

Take the case of Pilot, who is viewed as a suave, promising and non controversial leader, having a fairly large appeal among the youths. In the latest episode, though, the veteran Gehlot made some unsavory remarks at Pilot, the later maintained decency. In the TV debates, Pilot makes his points across with a lot of sense and clarity. As PCC chief, he had worked hard in the last elections and guided Congress back to power.

Pilot’s departure from Congress would have not only served a huge blow to the Congress and its image, but sent a wrong signal among the younger karyakartas that it’s not a party for the young and ambitious leaders. However, good sense prevailed, as Rahul and Priyanka cajoled Pilot back to the party.

Now, having won him back, how the party is going to deal with Pilot is a million dollar question. Who knows, Congress might spring a surprise, like it did in 2004. When the entire country was thinking who would head the UPA I government, and majority thought it would be Sonia, she stunned all by announcing Dr Manmohan Singh’s name as the Prime Minister.

It’s entirely a speculation, wild guess. As the time is due for the party to have its new chief, it could well pick Pilot for the top job. Again it’s speculation only.

Meanwhile, reportedly some Congress leaders have demanded that Rahul Gandhi should take over the leadership position from his mother and lead as the Congress president. Congress knows it well that, if that happened, it would provide enough ammunition to the BJP and other opponents. That would reiterate the belief that the Congress’ top position is the patent of one family.

A non Gandhi family person heading the Congress would force its opponents, particularly the BJP to change its strategies. For them, it may not be as easy to point their guns at the Congress chief.

It would also convey the message that the Congress promotes youth and more importantly, it’s considerate even to the rebels. Interestingly, when former Congress leader P A Sagma attacked Sonia and questioned her foreign origin, she fetched a ministerial berth to Sangma’s daughter Agatha in the UPA II government, making Agatha the youngest union minister in the country. That had silenced Sonia’s critics.

Today, as the Congress lacks a positive narrative, and is desperately is in search of one, it could repeat its own history. Which would help the party bury the negative perception about itself and its leadership.

Congress may have suffered humiliating losses, but one can’t deny the fact that it has a country wide presence and grassroots network, which is still intact. For the party, keeping the flocks together, at the moment, is more important than thinking about winning an election. It needs a leader who can lead from the front.

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