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Congress Goes into Firefighting Mode, Team Rahul May Feel the Heat

The Congress is fumbling for a disaster management plan after being handed its worst-ever electoral humiliation in post-independence history.

Published: 18th May 2014 08:31 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th May 2014 09:22 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI: The Congress is fumbling for a disaster management plan after being handed its worst-ever electoral humiliation in post-independence history. But the signs are that old habits will not be entirely abandoned — if only for the TINA factor.

Party president Sonia Gandhi and her son and vice-president Rahul Gandhi, whose anointment as the successor is being seen as her biggest political blunder, have offered to step down.

But the above-mentioned TINA factor, the doom scenario that any alternative will only hasten a splintering of the party, may work to ensure that their offer is not taken up. “This is absolutely not going to happen, we will not allow it. This is no way to go forward. You don’t cut yourself to find solutions,” a top Congress leader says in anger.

Such panic was not seen even when the party’s numbers tumbled down to an abysmal low of 44 from 206. He goes on to assert that this is “not how things work in our party — CWC will introspect.”

There’s an apparent fear in the party that “forces are at work to engineer (another) split” in the Congress.

How exactly the current scenario is to be tackled while keeping in mind the need to meet the rising discontentment with ‘family rule’ remains to be seen. A full CWC meeting on Monday will offer the first formal signs.

A rather plain-speaking Congressman Satyabrat Chaturvedi says the party has to devise a strategy to keep its head above water (for survival, revival will come later). To begin with, a resurgent BJP helmed by a determined Narendra Modi puts a question mark on many things, including the longevity of quite a few state governments such as Bihar, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand.

But one thing is clear. A major shake-up of some sort is inevitable in the grand old party. And heads have to roll.

The obvious targets are members of the coterie that surrounded Rahul, who took charge of the campaign in the last few months, sidelining the old guard. 

Madhusudan Mistry, C P Joshi, Mohan Gopal and Jairam Ramesh can look forward to a quick trial, if not summary execution. Ramesh, a senior figure who was part of the last two successful campaigns in 2004 and 2009, cannot be entirely relegated to obscurity.

The difference in the previous campaigns was that he was one of a team that comprised veteran political managers who read the signs on the ground, cobbled up alliances and responded with canny strategies, despite being known as the ‘Rajya Sabha brigade’.

This time, Jairam found himself the senior pro in a group of newbies and political innocents para — dropped right into the centre of India’s toughest election.

Jairam could not match the demands of the situation with the aplomb he had shown in his ministerial stints. Mistry is the other mystery figure. His rise in the party structure almost matched the perceived decline of his state-mate from Gujarat, the wily Ahmed Patel, Sonia’s trusted political secretary and one of the key behind-the-scenes figures during UPA’s good years. Mistry did take credit for a few state successes as the Congress pointsman.

Thereafter, he was made the key man to steer through the crucial task of candidate selection according to Rahul’s blueprint. He spent months on the project — but a yield of 44 seats at the end of it means Mistry must be guillotined from his current status. Mohan Gopal, a political nobody with vague socialist ideals borrowed from the seventies, became Rahul’s advisor on manifesto-making and campaign strategy. C P Joshi, another professorial-type Rahul protege, plucked out of the Cabinet, was given the run of Congress’ Bihar show.

A notable feature of Rahul’s ascendancy has been the silent sidelining of the party’s old guard, who could not protest too audibly because of the dynastic culture in the party. But it’s now clear that a mere “youth push” devoid of any tactical knowledge, is the way forward to more doom.

The resignations of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and Assam CM Tarun Gogoi’s offer to do the same, presents the grand old party a context: a picture of the full extent of the Modi wave against which it must craft its revival.

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