Weeks before what is expected to be a tough electoral battle, tension is simmering in the Congress party, with the old guard finding it increasingly difficult to keep pace with vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s ideas and wishes.
The divergence between two generations of Congressmen has been building over the past few months and came to the fore again on Friday when the Cabinet deferred Rahul’s much-hyped anti-corruption ordinances. Sources said key ministers are not inclined to bring the ordinances as they have been given to understand that President Pranab Mukherjee may not be keen on signing them as there is no urgency. The law ministry has already conveyed its reservation citing the same.
“But he is still very keen,” sources said referring to Rahul. While no one in the government is said to be inclined to go ahead with the ordinances, the option of a special Cabinet meeting is being kept open just in case Rahul insists the government give in to his views. The stalemate over the ordinances is only the latest manifestation of a war in the grand old party, with the young generation led by Rahul Gandhi turning the heat on for the old guard.
Earlier this week, Himachal Pradesh PCC chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, a Rahul appointee, complained to the Congress high
command against Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh for “arbitrarily” appointing heads of boards and corporations without taking Delhi’s permission.
The CM is, however, said to be defiant and made more appointments despite the high command’s instructions to the contrary. Rahul’s appointees in other states – Kerala PCC chief V M Sudheeran and Rajasthan PCC chief Sachin Pilot – are already facing resistance from Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and former CM Ashok Gehlot respectively.
In another instance of the friction, Rahul trashed the ordinance on convicted lawmakers which would have ensured RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav escaped disqualification from the Lok Sabha. But he went on to grudgingly accept the views of senior leaders about the need for an alliance with the RJD in Bihar.
However, chinks surfaced subsequently as Rahul, it is learnt, looked the other way when LJP’s Ramvilas Paswan began flirting with the BJP and eventually allied with it. Paswan was said to have made desperate calls to a close aide of Rahul, seeking his intervention to get around Lalu Yadav and secure LJP a fair share of seats, but to no avail.
“Lalu had already informed the Congress high command that in his view LJP was a burden and so Rahul or his team did little to address Paswan’s concerns. Had we stitched up an alliance a couple of months back, Lalu would have been much more flexible. But Rahul preferred the JD(U) then to RJD. We have given a leg up to the BJP for no reason,” a veteran Congress leader said.
“Senior leaders have already given up (on election preparations),” a leader is said to have complained at a meeting of young Congress MPs Rahul convened last week.
The next day, at the informal Congress Working Committee meeting Rahul had convened, a veteran leader took a veiled swipe at the party’s new faces on TV channels saying the party should field “political persons” and also those who speak Hindi. Sources said there is a lot of heartburn among party spokespersons over the appointment of Deepak Ameen and R V Ramani as media coordinators. Entrusted with “sundry” jobs at the party’s war room at Gurudwara Rakabganj Road in the capital until recently, the two have now been allowed to decide who should be fielded on the channels.
“They decide that if you are a Muslim, you should not speak against Modi. They decide who should speak. What do they know about Congress’ politics and ideology?” asked a senior Congress leader who had a long association with the party’s media department. “They called us at Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and here was Sanjay Jha giving us a lecture on how to speak on TV – ‘You should reach 10 minutes in advance to get acclimatized and you should see straight into the camera, et al’. After all these decades in the Congress, this is what we are being taught!” sniped another leader.
In fact, sources said Renuka Chowdhury was so upset that she put in her papers as spokesperson even as preparations were on to appoint new spokespersons last month. Also, with Rahul taking charge of the election campaign and strategy, different committees in which party veterans were given prominence have become “almost dysfunctional”. The election coordination committee, which used to meet every week earlier, now meets once a month or sometimes even later than that.
The “war room”, which used to be abuzz with activities, is “virtually deserted” with no meetings happening for days, sources said. Most operations are now carried out from Rahul’s 12, Tughlaq Lane residence. “While he is holding primaries in 16 seats, we get sudden calls from some general secretary asking at Rahul’s behest whether we would like to contest elections. We just don’t know how the system is functioning now,” said a Congress MP.