This Article is From Aug 08, 2019

Clunky On Kashmir, Congress Could Further Self-Harm On Saturday

Just in case anyone in India is still interested in the outcome, the Congress may finally progress this Saturday on deciding who will step up as President and replace Rahul Gandhi who checked out nearly three months ago.

The Congress Working Committee or CWC, which takes all decisions on behalf of the party, meets on Saturday. Whether it should have dibs on who becomes chief is debatable. It largely comprises of leaders who last fought an election 30 years ago. The CWC will, according to sources, set up a group of leaders to identify the next leader or nominate a compromise candidate, anything to avoid the dreaded internal elections which would normally be an ideal way for a robust political party to identify its leader. But since this is the Congress we are talking about, a small group of senior leaders seems to have convinced former party president Sonia Gandhi that an election could split the party.


Rahul Gandhi quit as Congress president in May

The senior leaders led by party treasurer Ahmed Patel, are punting for Mukul Wasnik, 59, who last won an election from Ramtek in Maharashtra in 2009. Wasnik's main plus point is that he is a Scheduled Caste leader who will be not just amenable but eager to play second fiddle to the Gandhi family, leaving its hold over the party intact. Wasnik is the candidate of the status quoists in the party who dread change since it might mean ending their own political careers. They would ideally like a Gandhi family member at the helm since then they can continue to pay obeisance while flourishing in the palace durbar.

The younger lot of leaders said to support Rahul Gandhi are impatient and want a real change that could revitalise the party, not more of the same which has seen the Congress reduced to a thorough has-been. An ambitious young leader who would like take a shot at being elected as president said to me, "If they again do the usual and appoint Wasnik, then the party will split. Why are they so scared of elected leaders? Why do they want a tame prop?"


Congress leader Mukul Wasnik is a front-runner for the party president's post

The fact that even Jyotiraditya Scindia, the young General Secretary with unfettered access to the Gandhis, broke rank and publicly welcomed the government's decision to end Kashmir's special status, has the party in jitters.

Some party leaders are convinced that those who welcomed the Modi government's move, a group that includes Milind Deora, Deepender Hooda, Janardan Dwivedi and Abhishek Manu Singhvi are in the process of filing job applications to the BJP. I spoke to some of the younger leaders in this lot. "I face elections, I am in my 40s, should I write off my future because the party can't make up its mind?" asked one of them. He pointed out the fact that the party was caught unprepared for a cohesive response to the setting aside of Kashmir's special status while virtually the entire country, powered by WhatsApp, knew what was planned by the Modi government.


Jyotiraditya Scindia backed the government on its decision to end special status for Jammu and Kashmir

Apparently, once the the government cancelled the Amarnath Yatra, asked tourists to leave the Kashmir Valley and moved additional troops there, some young leaders demanded an urgent meeting to decide on the Congress response. But senior leaders insisted that the party should decide its stand only after the government acted.

This fumbling in response to the Modi government setting the agenda and the narrative has become the hallmark of the Congress. It makes the party look weak and highlights the lack of any principles or ideology or leadership. This time around, leaders from states which will vote for their new governments in the next two months, which include Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, rebelled at the confusion over Article 370. They made their positions known before the party meeting and refused to dial down, telling senior leaders that the party was out of step with the public mood.


There has been rebellion by the young turks within the Congress after the government's move to end special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370

Rahul and Sonia Gandhi then intervened and said that the resolution would reflect the party's unhappiness over the process followed by the BJP rather than its decision to remove the special status allowed to Kashmir by Article 370.

Says a leader who went public with welcoming the repeal, "I have skin in the game. Ghulam Nabi Azad who took an over-the-top position and insisted it (his) was the party line has no career left either in Srinagar or Delhi". This assessment could apply to most of the leaders of the congress. If the party on Saturday again performs a holding operation putting in charge a group of leaders or Wasnik, a lot of leaders could simply walk out, convinced that the Congress has no ability to reform itself.


There has been a leadership vacuum since the Congress's crushing Lok Sabha defeat

If the party follows the counsel of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh by making a young grassroots leader its president, it could stave off some exits. But interestingly, the young gun option is not even being talked about.

Most of the country has lost interest in the endless soap opera that the Congress is immersed in; come Saturday, we will know if the Congress can even act in its own interest.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.