Once upon a time when the going was good for the Congress, they were the silver-spoon scions with family pedigree (one, a formal royal), indulged, made much of and given junior ministerial births as a crash course in administration.
Things have really changed. Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Jitin Prasada and Deepender Hooda, all in their 40s, are afflicted by the Peter Pan syndrome and are now struggling for recovery.
Peter Pan is the boy who refused to grow up. Ex Congress President Rahul Gandhi, 49, is the epitome of this. Peter Pan was the leader of the "Lost Boys" And the growing loneliness and plight of Gen Next leaders make the comparison pretty inevitable. Gandhi's rise and fall mirrors the fate of his contemporaries for no fault of theirs.
Scindia is fighting a lonely battle against the canny and wily duo of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh, seen as acting as "Super Chief Minister". Scindia has tried all the accepted ways and means of reclaiming some power. Hoardings and newspapers ads popped up demanding first that he be made Chief Minister of his home state and then that he be named chief of the state unit. Scindia loyalist and Forest Minister Umang Singhar termed Digvijaya Singh "a blackmailer" and accused him of "being involved in liquor trade and illegal sand mining".
This outburst followed a letter he sent to party president Sonia Gandhi where he "accused Singh of running the MP government behind curtains (sic)".
Scindia then joined the fray personally to support Singhar yesterday, asking Kamal Nath to listen to him and his allegations after Gandhi's cold refusal to react to Singhar's demands.
Scindia, who lost his Guna seat in the Lok Sabha elections, has been virtually reduced to irrelevance in his bastion. He wants to replace Kamal Nath as state chief but the party keeps handing him lollipops. He was first made Western UP in-charge when Priyanka Gandhi debuted in politics as General Secretary (eastern UP). When Rahul Gandhi quit as Congress chief, Scindia saw it as an opportunity to give up a thankless job he never wanted. The party then chose to appoint him the head of the poll-bound Maharashtra screening committee, yet another job that Scindia does not want.
The Congress vine is now in overdrive with speculation that both Scindia and Milind Deora, who also lost his election from the Mumbai south constituency, are in advanced talks to defect from the Congress to the BJP. While the speculation is overstated at this point, it is pretty clear that both are restless and worried about their political future. In fact, ever since Sonia Gandhi and the old guard took back the party from Gandhi Junior, the old guard is firmly stomping over the young guns.
The squelching of their ambition is the reason that Scindia, Deora and Prasada have repeatedly taken a public line radically different from that of the party. All three and Hooda Junior publicly welcomed the repealing of Article 370 (taking away special status from Kashmir) and Prasada recently welcomed Modi's idea of population control.
Prasada was all set to join the BJP, according to reliable sources, before the general elections, keeping mum when the media asked him about his plans. A car ride with Rahul Gandhi where he was requested to stay in the Congress reportedly changed his mind. But that was then. Post Gandhi quitting, he is back to negotiations with the BJP. Pilot, who made no secret of his desire to be Chief Minister of Rajasthan, has been uncharacteristically quiet in the chaos that currently defines the Congress. Sources say that he does not see a future with the BJP in Rajasthan which already has Vasundhara Raje and Modi and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a favourite minister of Modi and Shah.
Instead, he is quietly mulling a future of going regional by floating his own party. Sources close to him insist that presently it is just an idea he is toying with which may or may not evolve depending on the results of the upcoming state elections.
Gen Next is upset over the lack of growth prospects and the current ideological flux of the party. "We will keep losing elections as voters don't know what we stand for anymore. We can't even register a protest on the ground over the economy imploding as their is no leadership and no cadre. It's ok for Rahul Gandhi, he did not want to be a minister in the Manmohan cabinet. We were. We worked hard and learnt the ropes. Now his mother is keeping the seat warm for him, where do we go?" says one young leader.
Ironically, Hooda Junior is a package deal with his father Bhupinder Hooda, who managed to wrest back control from Rahul Gandhi appointee Ashok Tanwar in election-bound Haryana. The old guard prevailed over Sonia Gandhi to give in to Hooda's blackmail of walking out if he was not given control.
This has upset Gen Next even more. "You need a Big Daddy to get your way in the Congress," says one bitterly. The response from the old guard: "We know they are upset but will Shah make them ministers? asks a Sonia Gandhi aide.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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