A pall of gloom hangs heavy over 24 Akbar Road, Delhi. Rahul Gandhi continues to be adamant and has refused to withdraw his resignation from the post of Congress president. In the wake of Bharatiya Janata Party’s massive Lok Sabha 2019 victory, the Congress seems adrift, rudderless, totally at sea.
The chest-beating among Congress courtiers collected at the party headquarters has not stopped since May 25 when Rahul Gandhi had made the surprise announcement. Exhortations for him to stay and not jump ship has waxed and waned.
Reports emanating from the Congress party hint at the appointment of a working president, an idea mooted by a few senior leaders. The new appointee will take some workload off the shoulders of Rahul Gandhi. While the working president can take care of day-to-day work, Rahul can focus on the bigger picture and try to rejuvenate the party.
Here are some likely candidates.
A front-runner, according to many Congress watchers. There is a lot going for him. He is articulate, is rooted and more than anything else has political capital.
He has age on his side; at 41 years he can connect with the youth. The old guard will look benignly at him as he is the son of Congress stalwart, the late Rajesh Pilot.
He has also delivered. From 2013, when he was sent to Rajasthan to rebuild the Congress, he assiduously stuck to his job. He was the chief ministerial face of the party going into the 2018 assembly polls. He delivered Rajasthan to the Congress but saw Ashok Gehlot offered the chief minister’s chair.
And, more importantly, he has the ears of Rahul Gandhi. His appointment would surely rejuvenate the near-moribund Congress party.
There is only a small hitch. He is unlikely to be a rubber stamp man. The family that runs the Congress prefers to take all the decisions and a man with a mind of his own — and worse become a power centre in his own right — is not exactly what the family wants.
Though castigated by Rahul Gandhi for promoting son Vaibhav rather than working for the party, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot still has a lot going for him. For one he is seen to be Ahmed Patel’s man. Patel, as all of us know, is Sonia Gandhi’s confidant.
Gehlot has acceptability across the party. He is on affable terms with regional satraps such as Captain Amarinder Singh, Kamal Nath and Ashok Chavan. He is seen as a hard-core organisation man. Besides being a chief minister and an MP, Gehlot has held several posts including Pradesh Congress Committee president and general secretary of the All India Congress Working.
He was in charge of the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections where the Congress ran the BJP close. His inputs were also valuable in the Karnataka assembly elections of 2018.
Bringing him to Delhi may kill two birds with one stone — Congress gets a working president and the regular rumbles in Rajasthan cease (Gehlot doesn’t have the most cordial relationship with his deputy Sachin Pilot).
But will the Gandhis be seen to be rewarding a failure? Remember under Ashok Gehlot’s watch Congress failed to win even a single seat of the 25 Lok Sabha seats.
A member of the Rahul brigade, the Scindia scion has his master’s ears. He doesn’t have too much political weight so would be a comfort fit for the Gandhi-Nehru family.
But a disastrous Lok Sabha election has pulled down his stocks. Not only did Congress fare poorly in Uttar Pradesh — Scindia was in charge of western UP — he lost his family borough of Guna.
Worse is that Madhya Pradesh Congress is a cesspool of factionalism. Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia all vie for power. Any one of them moving closer to the high command would set alarm bells in rivals’ camps.
There is also a clamour in the state unit to replace Kamal Nath as Pradesh Congress Committee president with Scindia. With Congress hanging to power by the skin of its teeth in Madhya Pradesh, any tweaking of local power equations can have severe repercussions.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
By far the perfect choice for Gandhi-Nehru family. Having spent nearly all their political life under a dynastic rule, Congress leaders would welcome the status quo of another Gandhi as their leader.
Priyanka Gandhi has a lot going for her. She is young, has an easy charm and connects with the aam workers. The best part is power stays with the family.
But will she? Till the recent Lok Sabha elections she was seen to be a reluctant politician, preferring only to canvas in mother Sonia and brother Rahul’s constituencies. Would she be willing to become a full-time politician?
The other hurdle is the economic offence cases against her husband Robert Vadra. It’ll be a humongous albatross to carry. If she is appointed expect the BJP to push various agencies to up their probes into Vadra’s deals. Would Priyanka Gandhi be able to juggle all these responsibilities?
Congress has other leaders too – Jairam Ramesh, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijaya Singh…
Who’ll be the chosen one if the party decides to elect a working president? Watch this space.