Buddhists call it the Bodhi — the tree of enlightenment. The peepal tree, one among the two fig varieties native to Indian subcontinent, plays an important part in our culture and religions. It is considered sacred by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. It is believed that peepal, which finds mention in the Vedas, resembles the permanence of human soul. It offers shade but no food and is the tree most favoured by wandering hermits after renunciation. Monks take recourse to its shade after selling off their Ferraris and the way things are shaping up, even the scion of India's most famous political dynasty may soon seek the peepal's shield to escape the vagaries of public life.
As the Congress party threatens to implode in spectacular fashion, Rahul Gandhi, it appears, is in desperate need for some enlightenment.
In a way, the Congress has never been in such a predicament in its 129-year-old history. Electoral wins and losses are part of the natural cycle of any political party, but this crisis goes much deeper. Throughout its existence, the Congress has always had a monolithic structure in place where power flows from top. Post Independence, the Nehru-Gandhi family had been the unquestionable commander with party leaders at all levels being subservient to it and paying unadulterated obeisance.
The system was bereft of inner-party democracy, of course, but it worked perfectly well so long as the font of power remained single and importantly, that source always kept up its end of the bargain — which is to wield power and lead.
It is not possible for a party to survive for over a century and not face dissent. Congress has faced many revolts in the past. Powerful personalities who felt suffocated in the structure parted ways to either float their own parties or join political rivals. Sharad Pawar broke ranks and formed the NCP. In the east, Mamata Banerjee severed ties and floated the Trinamool Congress.
Grappling with the recent rebellion which saw dissidents deserting the party in five states, the Congress on Tuesday claimed that it is nothing new and it won't have any impact.
"In the past, stalwarts like HN Bahuguna, VC Shukla and Arjun Singh — all groomed by the Congress — left, but could not weaken the party," said BK Hariprasad, the party's general secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh while referring to the walking out of Ajit Jogi.
Factually, the Congress leader can't be faulted. The grand old party has always managed to get over monumental setbacks such as assassinations of incumbent Prime Ministers and still survive as the mainstream national party. It did so because the First Family, even when not actively involved in power, was the veritable adhesive that bound vested interests and fragile egos. The Gandhis were the glue not because they claimed to be so, but because the party rank and file believed it to be so.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Even during PV Narasimha Rao stint as the PM and Sitaram Kesri's tenure as the party president, the halo around the family never diminished.
It has now. And that is why this is no ordinary crisis.
On the one hand, party members know that Congress as it was known for over a century may cease to survive if the Gandhis were to relinquish leadership, on the other hand, circumstances have shown the future leader to be so ineffective that even if he were to take over, the inevitable will happen anyway. This has led to the existential dilemma that the Congress is suffering from right now and is being manifested with leaders from different states leaving the ship with a common refrain — the High Command is insular.
As Economic Times points out quoting a leader from Maharashtra where veteran Congressman Gurudas Kamat recently "retired" from politics, the state unit is adrift as vice-president Rahul Gandhi is 'detached' and not ready to take tough decisions. "When you don't even respond to a letter written by someone who has given more than 40 years to the party, what message are you sending to the grassroots?"
As MPs defect or threaten to defect to rival parties in North East, considered its last bastion, and middle-to-senior leaders in Chattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra appear disgruntled, the disillusionment is setting in with the High Command, specifically, Rahul Gandhi's style of functioning.
Virtually repeating the charge which Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma had leveled before walking over to BJP and help ensure its maiden government in the state, many leaders from Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Mumbai are expressing their displeasure with the way Rahul and his personal advisors unilaterally appoint PCC chiefs in many states, brushing aside views of senior leaders. "There is a growing impression in the party that Rahulji does not feel at home with senior Congress leaders and that he is comfortable more with rank outsiders or lightweights," a party insider told ET.
The reaction from 10 Janpath has been telling.
For a leader who claims to be "travelling the length and breadth of the country" to restore its health, Rahul is apparently planning to set up an "advisory council" to deliberate on key policy issues which will constitute senior leaders such as P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sushil Kumar Shinde and will be led by Sonia Gandhi while he gets elevated to the party president's post.
Translated, it basically means that while he will hold the party's highest post, Rahul will outsource his responsibilities to the "advisory committee" which no doubt will honorably shoulder the burden should Congress suffer more reverses.
A true leader will have taken up this opportunity to thoroughly recast the party, initiate structural reforms and impose his unquestionable authority but we are talking of a gentleman who considers power as poison. The calm shadow of the peepal tree awaits.