For Rahul, the biggest challenge remains Congress' old guard

Many seniors are sulking behind closed doors with the way Rahul Gandhi has gone about handling the election campaign. He has sidelined many seniors within the party and they feel he takes their contribution to the party for granted.

Sanjeev Singh March 23, 2014 11:34:03 IST
For Rahul, the biggest challenge remains Congress' old guard

Is there a war brewing within the Congress ? And why isn’t the Gandhi scion able to convince the old guard as the party witnesses an exodus of senior leaders on election eve?

When Congress MP from Jamnagar Vitthal Radadiya left the party to join the BJP in 2012, people didn’t think much about it. Though they questioned why Narendra Modi was inducting a person who became famous across the country for brandishing a gun at a toll booth near Vadodara, Gujarat.

When Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party walked out of the Congress, RJD alliance in Bihar in February this year, one was wondering if the Congress was actually serious about its alliance partners. Paswan had blamed Rahul Gandhi for not taking his calls when he wanted to finalize seat sharing between the three parties. He chose to go with the BJP who stitched up a clever alliance with the Dalit based regional outfit much to the chagrin of RJD and Congress.

Much water has flowed between then and now. What seemed like just a small trickle has now become a deluge, as leader after leader has been leaving the ranks to join other parties in search of a better future. What’s more intriguing is that the High Command seems to care little about such desertions.

Let’s start with BJP’s list in Gujarat where Radadiya gets company from former Congress MLA Prabhu Vasawa, who takes on former CM Amarsinh Chaudhary’s son and Union minister Tushar Chaudhary from Bardoli in South Gujarat. Modi has fielded two more former Congress leaders from Jamnagar and Patan in this election. “It is political opportunism at its best. Narendra Modi is poaching our people, and that is proof enough that BJP is on a sticky wicket in Gujarat. If BJP finds better candidates in former Congressmen, then where is the so called Modi wave” says Shaktisinh Gohil, National Spokesperson of Congress.

For Rahul the biggest challenge remains Congress old guard

Rahul Gandhi's biggest challenge remains Congress senior leaders. PTI

But there seems to be a bigger problem facing the grand old party. Many seniors are sulking behind closed doors with the way Rahul Gandhi has gone about handling the election campaign. He has sidelined many seniors within the party and they feel he takes their contribution to the party for granted. Though most have preferred to lie low, some have decided to do the unthinkable.

Former Home Minister and Rajiv loyalist Buta Singh, is contesting on a Samajwadi Party ticket from Jalore, Rajasthan. While senior leader from UP, Jagdambika Pal is contesting from his Domariyaganj seat on a BJP ticket this time. “Senior leaders do not matter in the current scheme of things” says Pal with an obvious reference to Rahul Gandhi. “I have been associated with the Congress since my Indian Youth Congress days. I have had to quit the party at 65 years of age because senior people cannot communicate with the leadership. It’s not just me, there are many others but they are silent spectators.”

After being a Union minister for 10 years, former CM of AP, NTR’s daughter Purandeshwari ditched the Congress for the BJP. Karnataka veteran and former Railways Minister CK Jaffer Sharief is also sulking after being denied a ticket from Bangaloreand may join ranks with HD Devegowda’s JDS. Sitting MP from Pune, Suresh Kalmadi is also keen to contest as an Independent after being denied the Congress ticket. While former Congress MLA Sonaram Chaudhary has been in the headlines for piping BJP veteran Jaswant Singh for the ticket from Barmer.

The worst hit state seems to be Orissa where over 10 senior leaders have quit the party. They include the Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh, former finance minister Ramkrishna Patnaik and former MLA Sanatan Mahakud. Many other sitting MLA’s also threatened to resign over ticket distribution. Four time MLA Bhupinder Singh had put the blame squarely on the high command "Some people with vested interests have taken control of the party. " Orissa assembly also goes to polls along with Lok Sabha where the BJD seems to have a clear edge over a divided Congress.

Rahul Gandhi’s consistent ignorance of senior leaders and his choice of candidates in these elections has not gone down well with them. Some of them believe that the scion is partly responsible for the party’s current failing situation. If he had come out of his shell and given a patient hearing to them, many of the issues could have been handled better. But with no indication or direction coming their way from the high command, they watched the situation go from bad to worse. Asking seniors to take the brunt by making them contest elections has just added to their woes.

Union Ministers Chandresh Katoch (Jodhpur), Srikant Jena (Balasore) and senior leader from West Bengal, Manas Bhunia and former IYC Chief Ashok Tanwar (Sirsa) are some of the reluctant candidates. Others like former Punjab CM, Captain Amarinder Singh who had informed the high command that he will be busy with his wife and Union minister Preneet kaur’s election from Patiala, yet he was named as the candidate from Amritsar against BJP stalwart Arun Jaitley.

Former cabinet minister Ambika Soni has been nominated from Anandpur Sahib while the sitting MP Ravneet Singh “Bittu” has been moved to Ludhiana. I&B minister Manish Tewari has opted out due to health reasons. Finance Minister P Chidambaram has made way for his son Karti from his seat of Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu. While former MP CM, Digvijaya Singh’s name is doing the rounds from Varanasi to take on Narendra Modi.

Rahul Gandhi may feel that the seniors should lead the way in a fight when the odds are clearly stacked against the party. But a section of the seniors are of the opinion that they should not be pushed into the electoral fray when their suggestions never found their way into the ears of the Gandhi scion. If they had been given a chance to put forth their views, half of the problems wouldn’t be there in the first place. The ball is clearly in Rahul’s court, if he decides to push ahead with his agenda aggressively then the possibility of more people jumping ship will be the obvious recourse.

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