Congress appears to be split between the young and the old guard. The young ones are supporting Rahul Gandhi in holding party seniors accountable for the Lok Sabha election loss. The old guard favours Gandhi as the party president.
- Rahul Gandhi has refused to continue as Congress chief
- Congress appears to be split between the young and the old guard
- Rahul Gandhi has been adamant at bringing someone from outside his family
Who will be the next Congress president? There is no easy answer to the question as the seniors in the Congress have not been able to find a “willing” candidate to take the baton from Rahul Gandhi and “be ready” to hand it back to “the family”. However, Rahul Gandhi, after resigning as the Congress president, has categorically said that a Gandhi should not be in the scheme of things while electing the next party president.
The Congress appears to be split between the young and the old guard. The young ones are the ones supporting Rahul Gandhi in holding the party seniors accountable for the Lok Sabha election loss.
The old guard – leaders with known pedigree of loyalty to the Gandhi family – favours a Gandhi as party president. But given that Rahul Gandhi has been adamant at bringing someone from outside the family as the Congress president, the old guard is facing a Hobson’s choice.
Nobody, reportedly, wants to become the Congress president. This has apparently delayed convening of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting. Reason? PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri, the two former non-Gandhi Congress presidents, are said to be the proverbial elephant in the room.
The memories of the treatment meted out to Rao and Kesri by the Congress – under a Gandhi – are still fresh among the old guard.
PV Narasimha Rao
Narasimha Rao was a Congress leader and the prime minister under whom India opened its markets in 1991 but has a better recall value for the BJP than the party he belonged to. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has referred to Rao a few times to target the Congress.
The Congress-led by Sonia Gandhi first and then by her son Rahul Gandhi has given the BJP and Modi the reason to target the party. Before becoming prime minister in 1991, Rao had sought permission from the then Congress president Rajiv Gandhi to retire.
During the election campaign, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 1991. Rao was called back from retirement and sworn in as the prime minister after the polls.
His relation with the Congress leadership turned cold after Sonia Gandhi took over as the party president and with whom Rao’s relationship had turned sour after his government decided to challenge the Delhi High Court judgment quashing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case against Rajiv Gandhi in Bofors scandal.
Earlier this year, Rao’s grandson NV Subhash – who joined the BJP in 2014 – said the former prime minister was sidelined in the Congress after he lost power. With Sonia Gandhi as Congress president, Rao did not find a place in the CWC despite him having been a former prime minister. He was not even one of the special invitees that the Congress names to accommodate some of the senior leaders.
Rao died in December 2004. Congress had come back to power at the Centre by then. Sonia Gandhi was the Congress president. A day after Rao’s death, the body was brought to the gates of the Congress headquarters on the Akbar Road in New Delhi.
But Rao’s body was not allowed to be placed inside for the people to pay homage. His cortege was parked on the pavement outside the AICC gate. This was confirmed by Margaret Alva, the veteran Congress leader in her autobiography, Courage & Commitment, published in 2016.
The reason put forth by the Congress defenders then was that the body was so heavy that it was difficult to lift it of the gun carriage and place it inside the Congress headquarters. The body was taken to Hyderabad for cremation citing the wish of the family members.
Sitaram Kesri was another loyalist of the Gandhi family who fell out of favour after becoming president of the Congress. Kesri had succeeded Rao as the Congress president after having served the party as national treasurer for a long time.
When Sonia Gandhi decided to enter politics in December 1997, Kesri called her a “saviour” in an interview to India Today. But all changed by the middle of March 1998. The Congress Working Committee passed a resolution sacking Kesri as the party president and asking Sonia Gandhi to take over the reins of the party.
But Kesri held on and refused to vacate the chair. Kesri was reportedly forced out of his office. Some commentators said Kesri was locked up in a toilet when a triumphant Sonia Gandhi entered the Congress headquarters. After Sonia Gandhi assumed the office of Congress president, Kesri was let out of the restroom and escorted out of the party office.
Many believe that this was the real reason why senior leaders Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar left the Congress party citing Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origins.
Both Rao and Kesri were Gandhi loyalists but were humiliated. This memory is apparently holding many of the old guards to come forward and offer to lead the Congress party till Rahul Gandhi or another Gandhi is ready to lead the party again. That the Gandhis are the strongest glue for the party is not debated or doubted in the Congress.
(This story originally appeared on IndiaToday)