NEW DELHI: The Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Monday witnessed many heated moments as party veterans who sent a joint letter to interim chief Sonia Gandhi came under attack.
Former party president Rahul Gandhi led the charge while a majority of members loyal to the Nehru-Gandhi family followed up with verbal assault, questioning the motive of the dissenters.
In its resolution, the CWC also warned them not to raise inner-party issues through media.
This, according to many senior Congress leaders, only shows that there is no space in the party for raising serious internal matters. Senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad sought to explain that the purpose of the letter was not to question the leadership of the Gandhis but only to flag some issues in the functioning of the party. This, along with organisational restructuring of the party, merits immediate attention, he added.
It is not for the first time that senior party leaders are raising their voice against the leadership.
However, the party’s history shows dissenters have never been able to win back the trust of the Gandhi family. According to insiders, this is the most important thing to survive in the party and to get important posts.
“Ample examples in the past show that any dissent in the party challenging Gandhi’s supremacy has been unwelcoming and dissenters have been sidelined. The treatment meted out to two non-Gandhi Congress presidents – PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri – before Sonia took over the reins of the party in 1998 is well known,” said a party leader.
Kesri was unceremoniously de-throned and locked in a room at the AICC headquarters as Sonia took over as party chief. Rao was sidelined completely.
The Congress’ top leadership did not allow even his dead body to be kept at the party headquarters in Delhi for people to pay their last respects.
Similarly, many others like Rajesh Pilot, Jitendra Prasada, Sharad Pawar and P A Sangma were either sidelined or left the party.
Brief history on Congress Presidents outside Nehru-Gandhi family
The party's history shows that it has had at least 13 presidents from outside the Nehru-Gandhi clan since independence as against five from its first family.
However, the family members have been at the helm for a much longer period of time as against the others.
Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have headed the party for the majority of the period since independence.
Sonia Gandhi, who has been its longest-serving president, offered to quit at a stormy CWC meeting on Monday after a letter from more than 20 party leaders sought organisational reforms and a collective leadership, but she was urged to stay on as the interim chief till a full-time president is appointed.
Among the leaders outside the Nehru-Gandhi family, J B Kripalani, B.
Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Purushottam Das Tandon, U N Dhebar, N Sanjiva Reddy, K Kamaraj, S.Nijalingappa, Jagjivan Ram, Shankar Dayal Sharma, D.K. Barooah, K B Reddy, P V Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri have headed the party.
The debate over whether a person from outside the Gandhi family was re-ignited last week when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in a year-old but recently published interview, endorsed her brother Rahul Gandhi's stand on a non-Gandhi president for the Congress, saying there are plenty of people capable of leading the party.
Rasheed Kidwai, senior journalist and writer of the book "24 Akbar Road", said the key issue before the party today is about the political leadership which has always been with the Nehru-Gandhi family.
"In the first general election, the slogan was 'A vote for Nehru is a vote for the Congress'. Even 2004 onwards, Sonia Gandhi wielded the political leadership that now resides with Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka. So the political leadership of the Congress has by and large always been with the Gandhis and even non-Gandhi presidents have owed allegiance to them," he told PTI.
Asked if a non-Gandhi can run the party with the Gandhi family retaining the overall leadership, he said, "Theoretically yes, practically no."
Sanjay Kumar, Director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said the tenure of Gandhi family presidents cannot be compared with non-Gandhi family presidents as there would be stark difference in the quantum of tenures.
"A person from the Gandhi family is both an asset and a liability for the party. The person would be an asset as he/she acts as a glue for the party which keeps the party together. They are also a liability and that liability is coming to the fore more prominently now as the Gandhi family has not been able to inspire voters and leaders of the party," Kumar told PTI.
He opined that it is going to be very difficult for a non-Gandhi president to function in the prevailing situation as various factions could emerge and the pulls and pressures would be very high.
Sanjay K Pandey, a political commentator and a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), echoed similar views, saying it will be very difficult for a non-Gandhi president to work with the family having a dominant imprint on the party.
"Unless the Congress devises a mechanism to deal with such a scenario, the future of the party is not very bright," he said.
(With PTI Inputs)