Behind the scenes, Congress establishment continues to prevail in the war within

The Gandhi family and Congress leaders won’t mind Sonia Gandhi’s re-nomination being described, by both supporters and critics alike, with a cliché that “only a Gandhi can lead the Congress”.

Sonia Gandhi returns: Why Congress continued with 'Parivaar'
NEW DELHI: Sonia Gandhi’s return to lead the Congress as “interim president” on Saturday was necessitated by the need to deal with a huge crisis, with potential to split the party, as the tension between ‘the Rahul Gandhi set-up’ and ‘the Congress establishment’ had reached flash-point, people privy to the developments internally said.

The Gandhis will continue to remain a close-knit family, but the fact that Sonia Gandhi finally agreed to take over the reins after leading the Congress for 18 years earlier and that Priyanka Gandhi had joined in the Congress Working Committee’s appeal for her mother’s re-nomination, meant a 2-1 vote from within against Rahul’s earlier caveat of not having family members succeed him.

Why did this happen?

Beyond the official narrative, to many, the mother-daughter duo has understood the depth of the crisis and did not want either a split in the party or the leadership to completely slip out of the family’s grasp, after Rahul’s plots went awry. Significantly, no time limit has been set for the interim president's tenure, with leaders looking up to Sonia Gandhi to heal the wounds within.

The Gandhi family and Congress leaders won’t mind Sonia Gandhi’s re-nomination being described, by both supporters and critics alike, with a cliché that “only a Gandhi can lead the Congress”.

The narrative, however, conflicts with how Rahul had to go midway.

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The worst kept secret within the party was how Rahul had been waging a war against the entrenched establishment, comprising senior leaders, by experimenting on the organisational, political and electoral fronts, which the establishment – the power behind the throne — was convinced was not acceptable or viable against the in-built functional equilibrium-reflexes of the monolithic organisation.

His father, Rajiv Gandhi, had done much the same in the Eighties, calling the then Congress establishment “power brokers”, and lost. The senior Gandhi, like his son now, did not have the political savvy or a seasoned team to do what Indira Gandhi had done to the Syndicate earlier in the Sixties.

The “unifier” role that Sonia played for 18 years — and most likely will do again — is testimony to her keen understanding of what a Gandhi is meant to be – “the revered strategic mascot” at the head of the Congress vanguard, not “a leader who fights the establishment”.

The depth of Rahul’s disconnect with the Congress establishment towards the end was evident on three counts.

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First, most of the full-fledged CWC members refused to resign in solidarity with him despite his nudging.

Second, Gandhi's decision - despite earlier vowing not to be involved in the process of selecting his successor - to take the selection process beyond the CWC (to PCC chiefs, CLP leaders, AICC secretaries and party MPs) was, to many, reminiscent of the ploy PV Narasimha Rao adopted when the then PM-Congress chief was devoid of enough support within the CWC after the Babri Masjid demolition and Jain hawala diary backlash.

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Third, the Rahul camp on Saturday only trusted hand-picked junior leaders – Sushmita Dev, Gaurav Gogoi, Rajiv Satav, Arun Yadav and Rajni Patil — to “record” the opinions of delegates on the new president before the five CWC sub-committees. The Rahul camp choreographed well to make him the highest vote-getter, which they thought would give him the moral high ground to 'renounce' and nominate a president of his choice, but the Congress establishment skillfully walked away with the trophy by first playing “the neutralising Dalit card" for next president and then springing a surprise by proposing Sonia Gandhi's name to clinch victory.

Rahul, who received a profusely emotional “thank you” message from the CWC, can now travel around addressing rallies and be the “voice of the party”. For the Congress establishment, what matters most is not the visible hardware, but the crucial software that operates “the system”.

The establishment, typically, will not overtly target ‘the handlers of Rahul” – some may flee now - but will quietly work to consolidate the levers of powers while rallying Sonia to lead the Congress’ war-cry against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for whom Rahul was always an easy prey.
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