Diminishing Gandhis: Have they been reduced to mere leaders of a Congress faction?

Let's put the question straight. Are the Gandhis in control of the Congress? Or, are they just leaders of the most powerful faction in the party? Seniors leaders of the party would vouch for the authority, moral and otherwise, of the family in public and profess absolute loyalty to it, but post-election developments suggest there is more than what meets the eye.

With a free-for-all slugfest on among various factions within the Congress and the absolute silence of the leadership on the development, it's not clear whether the Gandhis matter too much for the party. While the battle for currying favour with the high command continues, it's obvious that they look like the biggest losers.

 Diminishing Gandhis: Have they been reduced to mere leaders of a Congress faction?

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in a file photo. AFP

The fact that a certain 'coterie' is calling the shots even after the most humiliating defeat in the general elections has not gone down well with most leaders. This has led to many leaders making different statements in public glare, giving the impression that Sonia Gandhi may not be the power centre that she was a few months ago. There are senior leaders critical of a group that wants the party's revamp as it may take away their unbridled powers, but what surprises most is a group of 14 just elevated secretaries of the party organisation joining the rat race.

"We don't need any more groupism in the party. It's not fair to criticise senior leaders in public," said Sandeep Dikshit, former MP and a close Rahul aide. "By taking sides, we are running the risk of reducing our leaders to being a part of one faction. They (14 secretaries) need to understand the damage that is being done," he argued.

Dikshit is the lone voice that has spoken out against the 14 secretaries for their double standards. This group has been under fire from majority of the leaders behind closed doors for selective leakage to the media about their meetings and letter in which they asked senior leaders to refrain from going public with their views. Most of these young leaders are those who have been nominated and are perceived to being close to Rahul Gandhi, but they have yet to prove themselves.

"The infighting shows that Congress hasn't come to terms with the political reality. The opaque system of functioning within the party is also not working out," says Ronojoy Sen, Senior Research Fellow at National University of Singapore. Factionalism is nothing new to their party, but Sonia and Rahul will have to take a stand quickly. Waiting for things to settle down will only undermine their authority further," he added.

Rahul Gandhi’s decision to hold internal elections to frontal organisations (Indian Youth Congress and National Students Union of India) was considered a bold one, but they have failed to make the required impact. Elections have been marred by allegations of fake members and money playing a bigger role rather than the nominated structure that was in place till 2007. The party also roped in foreign players (Dentsu) for Rahul Gandhi’s image makeover and spent around Rs 500 crore during the campaign, but success eluded them. The blame for the 2014 defeat was put on UPA and its ministers being disconnected from the masses.

"This is for the first time that the Congress leadership is dependent on the organisation rather than themselves. The party always relied on Nehru, Indira, Rajiv and Sonia to deliver the goods," says Rasheed Kidwai, senior journalist and expert on Congress affairs. "Defeat makes you introspect, but the tragedy is no one is willing to learn from it. The problem is simple, non application of mind. Rahul is being dishonest to the 10 crore people who voted for Congress," he adds.

With the main organisation (AICC) and Congress Parliamentary Board still waiting for the much needed changes, the leadership has been found wanting. Party cadre has no one to look up to as a "coterie" has ensured that status quo remains for the benefit of a select few. This was perhaps the best time for Rahul Gandhi to throw the excess baggage of the past and move on with a new team to take on the new Modi regime. Despite four months having gone by, the wait only seems to be getting longer.

This gives rise to the discomforting question for the Congress: Are the Gandhis really in control of the Congress?

Updated Date: Sep 16, 2014 18:16:51 IST