RG Should Be Thankful To The 23 Letter-Writers

There are at least 23 brave men in the Congress. Brave enough to say what should have been said long ago, just after the general election last year when Rahul Gandhi resigned as party President. But it's never too late. This group has said what every Congress person or anyone who had not voted for the BJP has been saying since 2019: that democracy is safe in the country only if there is a strong opposition; that democracy can be vibrant in the country if the principle opposition party i.e. the Congress is willing to play its role. But the problem is that the Congress has abdicated its responsibility. For the past year and a half, it has looked scared. Scared to put the ruling party on the mat on any issue. It seemed to just give in without a demur and lost the space that could have provided the launchpad for its rejuvenation.

The only man in the Congress who in this period seemed to have shown some courage in taking the bull by its horns was Rahul Gandhi, despite all his weaknesses. He regularly took on the government, engaging on issues of national importance. But for some unknown reason, he always seemed alone. With every passing day, he looked more and more aloof. It is this aloofness which has cost the party in particular and Indian democracy in general. It appears that the Congress has lost the will to fight, the willingness to regain its past glory.

A letter was written long ago. The Congress leadership was not willing to discuss the issues raised in the letter. The man who leaked the letter to the media has done a great service to the Congress. Once the issue came into the public domain, the Nehru-Gandhi Family was left with no option but to discuss the whole issue, virtually in public. It's a lengthy letter but the crux of the matter is that the party should end the issue of leadership once and for all. Since Rahul resigned drowning in self-pity, the party has been rudderless, directionless. It is because of this uncertainty that it lost two governments - one in Karnataka and the other in Madhya Pradesh. It somehow managed to save its government in Rajasthan. It was obvious that the Congress had no agenda, no programme, no structure and no willingness. Today, thanks to the letter writers, the issue is back in focus. The Congress leadership has to now decide and end the uncertainty.

The day-long Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Monday, ended with the resolve that Sonia Gandhi would continue as the interim President till a solution is found or an agreement is reached as to who will lead the party. This could take some time but hopefully not an eternity.

In many quarters, the letter writers are being dubbed as rebels and their efforts as a kind of revolt. Neither is fair. They have been Nehru-Gandhi loyalists who could at best be called Darbaris. Their intent is not to engineer a coup d'état but to push their leaders, wake them from the deep slumber they seem to be in - and in that, they seem to have succeeded. In this context, the first meeting can't be dismissed as a failure though it is true that it did not reach any conclusion and did not decide anything in the end. But Rahul Gandhi calling up Kapil Sibal to clear the misunderstanding about the letter being written at the behest of the BJP is a good sign. It clearly says that the letter-writing was not taken in the wrong spirit. And Ambika Soni demanding disciplinary action against the writers could only be read as a few darbaris having still not realised the historicity of the moment.

The Congress at the moment is up against the most difficult situation in its history. It has no Gandhi, Nehru, Patel or Indira Gandhi to rescue them from this crisis. Sonia Gandhi has played her role in history. She revived the Congress for some time and saved it from extinction. In 1998, when she became the Congress president, the party was rapidly withering away. She led from the front, arrested its further decline and helped the Congress to form the government in 2004. After playing her role, it is time for her to now leave the battleground to Rahul.

In my opinion, Sonia Gandhi is the biggest hindrance in the path of Rahul Gandhi. She must leave him alone. Once alone, he will either swim or sink. But if she continues to indulge in backseat driving, then Rahul Gandhi and the Congress will sink for sure. Rahul Gandhi also must realise that he has to end his his self-pity mode. He must stop saying that he is not being supported by the senior leaders of the party, that he is fighting alone, as he said when he resigned in 2019. Strong leaders don't find excuses, they create situations, they create a team of people who are equally motivated to defeat the opponent. And if he wants to lead, then he must be ruthless. He must do three things: 

A. Consolidation of leadership

B. Ideological rejuvenation

C. Organisational purging

The top-most position can only be held by one person. Right now, there are three - Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. There should be one person at the top and other two have to either leave or have to accept the leadership of the person at the helm. There can't be three centers of power in the Congress. Unless this is sorted out, the crisis in the Congress will not end. In my opinion, Sonia Gandhi should gracefully retire, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra should settle in Lucknow and Rahul Gandhi should run the party.

The Congress is up against a party which is very ably led by a charismatic leader clothed in an ideology which underlines what it wants to achieve in future. Rahul has to re-invent the Congress ideology vis-a-vis Hindutva. He must give a broad ideological framework for the future of India. He must redefine many old concepts, abandon a few outdated ones and invent others to match the attractiveness of Hindutva.

Finally, he must start a process of purging in his own party. Like Modi, he has to say goodbye to the older leaders. He has to get rid of those who refuse to change. The old mindset will not work. Today's India is very different. This India is defined by Modi. He has changed the rules of the game. Unless Rahul Gandhi is willing to change them further, he will have no future. To fight and win this battle, he needs political mercenaries, not armchair politicians. He does not need his mother's men, he has to find his own team. The sooner he gets rid of the old guard, the better.

History does not offer many chances. He should be thankful to the 23 brave men. They have created an opportunity for him, he should grab it and move forward. Will he?

(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)

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