The letter by 23 Congress leaders, all of whom have a long and trusted association with the party, proposed that an institutional mechanism for collective leadership be put in place. It should not normally have raised such an alarm in 10 Janpath. But for the Congress, the first family is sacrosanct and even a hint that another can take its place, unless specifically nominated by the Gandhis themselves, amounts to no less than treason, writes Coomi Kapoor, consulting editor of The Indian Express.
So, why would seasoned politicians make such a suicidal move?
The movers of this rather risky initiative seem to have been driven largely by genuine concern for the future of the party. But they were also conscious that they are remnants of the old order and would have little place in the new, when Rahul Gandhi formally takes over.
“In one sense, the letter might have back-fired and pushed Rahul Gandhi into the driver’s seat earlier than he intended,” writes Kapoor. In Congress circles it was understood that Rahul Gandhi would eventually return as president. The only question was when.
Rahul Gandhi has dragged his feet because he wants an assurance that he will be given a totally free hand. Unlike his mother who sought consensus and took the guidance of a brain trust of seasoned hands, Rahul Gandhi is deeply suspicious of the old guard, whom he regards as compromised and status-quoists.
Until now, Rahul Gandhi’s position is that he is not in charge of the party, even though all key appointments in the last few months were cleared by him and his tweets are assumed to be the official views of the Congress.
“It was Rahul Gandhi’s sweeping powers without any accountability, which is perhaps one of the incentives for the letter,” she writes. The silent majority in the party may, like the rebels, also have reservations over Rahul Gandhi’s return, especially without his mother’s moderating influence.
The rebellion by the Congress stalwarts will undoubtedly be quashed. But will the suggestions in the letter for collective leadership, reviving genuine debate in the CWC and the parliamentary party also be ignored? If the well-meaning advice from trusted loyalists is brushed aside, then the 135-year-old party is moving towards an existential crisis and the nation will not get the strong opposition party it deserves.