India: New Congress Chief will succeed only if there is no parallel power centre

  • The Congress will have to define the role of the Gandhis in the party apparatus before a non-Gandhi is appointed president for the success of a new leadership experiment, evaluate party circles.
  • As things stand, three members of the family hold ‘controlling stake’ and their ‘parallel power centre’ could reduce the new party chief to a dummy of the Gandhis who could hold reins without accountability. Such a situation would only make a farce of the experiment, according to Congress leaders.
  • When Rahul offered to resign in Jun 19, he said he would remain a party worker and focus on strengthening it by travelling around the country. This would mean a new party chief will have to deal with a very powerful ‘karyakarta’, general secretary Priyanka and CPP chief Sonia Gandhi.
  • In the last three decades, the Congress leadership has suffered thrice the consequences of parallel power centres. When PV Narasimha Rao was the PM and Congress president, despite the glue of power helping him to unite the party brass, Arjun Singh and others rebelled by projecting themselves as ‘loyalists’ of the Gandhi family, culminating in Rao’s and Congress’ fall.
  • Thereafter, Rao tried to project himself as successor Sitaram Kesri’s ‘handler’ and the latter had to sack the former’s loyalists, Devendra Dwivedi, BP Maurya and Janardan Poojari, and oust Rao as CPP leader, with the backing of Arjun and Pawar camps, to establish his independence.
  • Kesri’s freedom was short-lived though, as Sonia Gandhi emerged as an ‘ordinary Congress member’ before capturing power. During the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh powersharing experiment, Rahul’s symbolic ‘ordinance tearing’ too led to the opposition accusing the Congress of diluting the prime minister’s authority.
  • In short, any appointment of a non-Gandhi Congress president, many feel, will not only test whether the Congress can function without the leadership of the Gandhis but also whether the Congress first family will be at ease without controlling the party.
  • If Rahul is serious about quitting, the Gandhi trio will have to effectively send out a message of remaining ‘hands off’ for the credibility and prestige of the new party president. It’s for Rahul Gandhi to decide if he is prepared for such a course of action.

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