STRUGGLING TO REGAIN CONTROL
India Today|August 09, 2021
Rahul is trying to change the rules of engagement in the party and build a new team. Will he succeed?
Kaushik Deka

In the summer of 2010, Rahul Gandhi, the then general secretary in charge of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC), addressed the party’s youth wing in Guwahati and asked them to speak up if they saw their seniors making mistakes. Acting on this advice, a few brave men made bold to point fingers at the functioning of several senior leaders only to find themselves marginalised within the party. They reached out to Rahul Gandhi but were stonewalled. “Follow the organisational system and seek help from the state unit first,” was the advice from his office.

More than a decade later, the Gandhi scion seems to have radically altered his thinking. On July 18, cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu was appointed president of the Punjab Congress Committee. Though Congress president Sonia Gandhi officially made the appointment, it’s an open secret that Rahul and his sister and AICC (All-India Congress Committee) general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi backed Sidhu to the hilt. Unlike Assam’s IYC leaders in 2010, Sidhu got unflinching support from Rahul in his rebellion against the Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh for over two years. The decision to make him PCC chief was taken despite strong resistance from Amarinder, a known Sonia loyalist.

It’s not just the elevation of Sidhu—a BJP defector who did not have any visible grip on the Congress organisation—but a series of decisions that the Gandhi siblings often take together, which indicate that Rahul may have just begun an “organisational cleansing” before officially taking charge of the party for a second time. The Congress presidential election is scheduled within this year. Though he has not said anything about contesting the poll as a presidential candidate, his aides are confident that the party has no choice but to elect him to stay united.

Rahul has never hidden his discomfort with the functioning style of several Congress veterans. Over the years, he came to accept that he would have to co-opt the old guard in the interest of the unity, stability, and, at times, the financial health of the party. In 2019, when he resigned as Congress president after the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha poll, he openly expressed his annoyance with the senior leaders. He named P. Chidambaram, Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath, and Digvijaya Singh for promoting their sons and claimed he was all alone in his battle against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Without saying it explicitly, he indicated what he would be seeking in future Congress leaders—the desire and capability to fight Modi and the BJP at all levels, and the ability to draw public attention.

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