The Congress’ leadership issue is far from over. At a recent meeting of the Congress’ central planning group for a ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, Rahul Gandhi reportedly expressed his unwillingness to lead the march from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. The yatra is set to begin on October 2 and is likely to consume a year and a half to cover a distance of 3686 kilometres. The idea of a yatra was broached at the AICC’s Chintan Shivar held at Udaipur in mid-May this year.
The Congress’ presidential polls are due in August-September this year. So far, there is no clear indication that Rahul Gandhi would return as 87th president of the AICC, a job he had abruptly left on May 25, 2019 barely a year and a half into his five-year stint. His mother Sonia Gandhi has been manning the post as ‘interim AICC president’ since August 2019. As per the Congress constitution, the interim arrangement should not have lasted over a year.
An unidentified Congress leader is said to have moved a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court seeking ‘democratisation’ in the grand old party. The petition, apparently seeking a hearing slot in the Supreme Court, argues that since 1999, the Congress has been avoiding internal party polls and failing to fulfill letter and spirit of the Congress constitution.
In the party circles, there is an element of anxiety and concern over reports of a PIL. Senior Congress leaders fear that if notices are issued, the Election Commission would get into the picture and the Congress leadership, battling on many fronts, would come under further strain and media scrutiny.
At the first meeting of Bharat Jodo Yatra preparations, Rahul Gandhi seemed a bit distracted by recent events such as disquiet over Rajya Sabha nominations, Enforcement Directorate notice in the National Herald case, his mother’s illness etc.
According to those present in the meeting, Rahul kept saying that he would ‘walk’ but not ‘lead’ the yatra which is set to pass through 12 states. The meeting was attended by Digvijaya Singh, Jairam Ramesh, Shashi Tharoor, Sachin Pilot, Jitu Patwari, Jothi Mani, Indian Youth Congress chief B V Srinivas, Mahila Congress chief Netta D’souza and NSUI president Neeraj Kundan and others.
Many proposals and suggestions were made. The central theme, some party leaders argued, was about a prominent face leading the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’. They cited past precedences of Chandrashekhar and Sunil Dutt drawing a lot of attention with their padyatras. However, Rahul Gandhi reportedly declined to yield, suggesting hybrid versions of yatra being conducted on foot, buses, trains etc from various district headquarters. By the time the first meeting ended, there was no clarity or consensus.
Wishful or pure hypothesis, many elements in the Congress interpret Rahul’s reluctance to lead the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ as a sign of his hesitancy to return as the AICC chief in August-September. The premise may sound plausible, but there is a counter argument too. Rahul or Team Rahul continues to be pro-active, having a decisive say in all key appointments, including Rajya Sabha berths. Political grapevine has it that both Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma were told that Rahul Gandhi was not in favour of their Rajya Sabha re-nomination. In the absence of a denial, reports of a zoom call from London that sealed the fate of those getting and denied Rajya Sabha berths, points at Rahul’s decisive say in the selection of party nominees for the upper berth. The argument that opposes Rahul’s reported reluctance goes like this if he is not really not interested then why is he, his mother, and team putting in place his favourites at all levels of hierarchy?
For some, time management is Rahul Gandhi’s biggest challenge. Unlike his father, uncle, mother or grandmother, Rahul seems a tad indifferent towards the idea of meeting, intermingling thousands of party workers a day, running into days, weeks, months and years. His team seems to have harped too much on the ‘take home’ part of such meetings, pointing out how a majority of party leaders seeking appointments are hangers-on, looking for favours, party posts, selfies etc.
But seasoned and successful politicians from the Congress orbit point at multiple benefits of such ‘janta darbars’ and delegation meetings. According to them, quality political inputs, ground reports and assessment can be made that no data scientist, poll strategist or agency can offer. Rahul Gandhi needs to put his heart in ‘human touch’ than relying on his coterie which has a ‘disconnect’ with the masses.