By Sushil Kutty
Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Friday “retired”, on the eve of Gandhi family scion and her son Rahul Gandhi taking over as Congress president. A smooth transition. One that the Family can bank on, come what may, loss or victory in polls.
On Friday Sonia hinted that she’s close to retiring from politics. “My role is now to retire,” said Sonia, without giving any details or a time frame.
Rahul was named Congress president on Monday after a no-rival claimant to the president’s post election. The 47-year-old leader takes over the post after a 19 year reign of Sonia Gandhi.
Rahul was party vice-president since January 2013.
“The entire country has lots of expectations from Rahul Gandhi. Much before he was elected, he has shown his mettle. He knows his responsibility,” senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Monday.
Rahul Gandhi faces a stiff task ahead of him. If the Congress loses the Gujarat elections, he will start off on a weaker wicket than the one his mother Sonia Gandhi was batting on.
He can expect a couple of bouncers coming his way. For, though, he got 89 nominations filed on his behalf by fawning sycophants in the party which is full of Gandhi family’s “captive puppets”, there are hidden hands in the Congress who would strike if he loses the Gujarat elections and shows signs weakness.
People like Mani Shankar Aiyar – the old guard – afraid of losing space and clout to a by far younger lot of newly-minted Congress leaders. The old guard or a faction within it are looking at their ‘Marg Darshak Mandal’ days a la LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi in the BJP and are not liking it a bit.
Rahul Gandhi could be accused of not doing much as Congress vice president but one thing which he did for sure was to antagonize a number of the old guard including Mani Shankar Aiyar who do not see class or character in him to take over as Congress president.
He tore up a Manmohan Singh ordinance when Singh was Prime Minister and nobody in party or government could touch him. Singh must not have liked it but he was as much a “captive puppet” then than as he is now.
Gandhi kept away seasoned Congress campaigners from the Gujarat elections, the helm of which he handed over to Sam Pitroda who was in the United States for most of Sonia’s tenure as Congress president. A Congress man in self-imposed exile because he did not see a role for himself in Sonia’s Congress. He is the president of the Indian Overseas Congress
It was Rahul who brought Pitroda into the Congress mainstream after Sam helped him debut in Berkeley with an elan that he lacked in Parliament. And when he returned, Rahul brought Pitroda along with him to hand him charge of Gujarat.
Now with the party staring at defeat in Gujarat, Pitroda can expect flak and Rahul some collateral damage though none in even the Old Guard will have the spine to come out of the cobwebs to strike the first blow. The only one who could have been insane enough to do so has been suspended and left on the sidelines to throw dinner parties for the retired from India and Pakistan.
From the outside, Rahul can expect a barrage of attacks. The BJP leadership will not pull punches attacking him at every step of the way despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulating him on his elevation to the party president’s post. The so-called ‘Bhakt-trolls’ will go after him hammer and tong and every Internet tool, watching his every word and sign for silly and other mistakes, foolhardiness.
Congress leaders at the cusp of the mother handing over the baton to the son appeared appropriately muted, saying only that she will be around to lend support and give guidance to the party and Rahul Gandhi.
That said in the short time since Rahul has been named Congress president he has shown a ruthlessness not seen in Sonia Gandhi. The prompt suspension of Mani Shankar Aiyar was an indication. And despite win or loss in Gujarat, he did come out as a different kind of Rahul, a little more sure and confident.
The Congress Party president post has been held by five members of the Nehru-Gandhi Family so far. It began with Motilal Nehru, then to his son Jawaharlal Nehru followed by his daughter Indira Gandhi, fell to her son Rajiv Gandhi after her assassination, taken over by his wife Sonia Gandhi after his assassination and now to her son and heir Rahul Gandhi, the sixth.