The 2014 Lok Sabha elections may deliver a verdict on Rahul Gandhi in more than one way. While the jury is out on his popular appeal as the Congress party’s de facto prime ministerial candidate, the results will also be a verdict on his decision to cast aside his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s tried-and-tested set-up comprising party veterans for overseeing poll management.
Sonia had constituted an election coordination committee headed by Rahul and including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Janardan Dwivedi, Ahmed Patel, Digvijaya Singh, C P Joshi, Madhusudan Mistry, Jairam Ramesh and Jyotiraditya Scindia. This panel was entrusted to plan and oversee the party’s campaign strategy. But the committee has not met for about a month even as the elections draw to a close.
The Congress core group — comprising Sonia, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Patel, A K Antony, and P Chidambaram — which used to take the final call on crucial matters of governance as well as politics has also not met for over six weeks. Similarly, the party’s war room at Gurudwara Rakabganj Road, where top party leaders would hold brainstorming sessions to formulate and execute the party’s strategy till recently, is almost deserted now.
The action has shifted to Rahul’s residence at 12, Tughlaq Lane, where the party’s campaign strategies are discussed and finalised by his young team, mostly comprising non-political professionals, under the directions of Rahul and his sister Priyanka Vadra who often brings sumptuous food for them. Both Sonia and Priyanka are known to love cooking and the latter’s culinary skills as well as her political inputs are said to be quite inspiring for the young team overseeing the grand old party’s poll preparations.
Congress general secretaries often get calls from Priyanka and Rahul’s close aide Kanishka Singh seeking inputs, if needed, and passing on directions.
The disarray in the ruling party was evident from the fact that a sub-committee on pre-poll alliances, headed by A K Antony, never submitted its report. It was also reflected by the government’s flip-flop on the inquiry commission into the snooping row, which caused embarrassment to the ruling party.
Earlier, Jairam Ramesh and Salman Khurshid used to play a big role in overseeing the party’s campaign during elections. While Khurshid has been assigned no role in the new set-up, Ramesh, though a part of Rahul’s team, was mostly confined to Andhra Pradesh this time. Sources said Ramesh’s earlier role has been given to Mohan Gopal, director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies, whose political experience dates back to his NSUI days in college.
As desired by Rahul, many AICC general secretaries in charge of states — including Madhusudan Mistry, Gurudas Kamat, Ambika Soni and C P Joshi — entered the electoral fray, leaving the day-to-day election-related coordination with state units to ad hoc substitutes. Many state unit chiefs like Sachin Pilot (Rajasthan) and Ashok Tanwar (Haryana) are also contesting.
“This has resulted in almost total focus on Rahulji’s campaign, leaving individual candidates to fend for themselves. There used to be good coordinationan and communication right from the district level to the AICC-level during elections. This has somehow got disrupted. You can’t always approach Rahulji’s office for everything,” said an AICC functionary.
A member of the party’s election coordination committee, however, refuted suggestions of any disarray in the party due to the new set-up. “The Congress vice-president’s office is coordinating very effectively. Whenever they need any input, they consult senior leaders. You have to accept that every generation will have its own style of functioning and everybody in the party understands it,” he said.