Will The Congress Leadership Conundrum Be Untangled This Makar Sankranti?
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In the midst of everything that is happening around the world, Congressmen are hoping that on the day of Makar Sankranti, January 14, they usher into a new era and see the top leadership issue is resolved. Besides the matter of Congress President’s post, which is lying vacant since May 2019, all eyes are on Motilal Vora – Ahmed Patel successor(s) issue.

Vora was looking after the AICC administration, while Patel was the fundraiser. Between them, they had been handling all the financial matters of the party for past 20 years. Well, more on that later.

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On the leadership issue, at present, there are three schools of thought within the grand old party, each coming up with their set of arguments.

For those clamouring for ‘Draft Rahul Gandhi,’ the logic is simple. The party and the Nehru-Gandhi family has invested too heavily in Rahul since 2004 (when he formally joined politics). His gradual elevation as the party general secretary in 2006, vice president in 2013 and crowning as 87th AICC chief had approval from all factions and groups within the Congress. Any rethink on this would leave Rahul Gandhi without a formal role or position, which upsets the already settled political and hierarchical equations of the party.

There is a powerful lobby within the Congress which wants Sonia Gandhi’s continuation as a matriarch till December 2022, till the time when a full-scale election of the Congress president is scheduled to be held. As per the Congress constitution, article XVIII [h], election of a ‘regular president’ can be held the AICC [1300-odd members] if the party president resigns while the electoral college for a normal party president [for a five-year term] consists of 15000 Pradesh Congress Committee [PCC] delegates.

Congress leaders favouring Sonia’s continuation want her to start touring states, meet party leaders in every state and try convincing regional parties to join a broad anti-NDA-BJP-Narendra Modi platform.

If Sonia accepts this proposal, senior party leader Kamal Nath will be assisting her in a role that was played by Ahmed Patel. Nath is reportedly excited to play his part without asking for designation or a formal post.

The third scenario deals with a situation of a non-Gandhi family member heading the party. Names of Mukul Wasnik, Ashok Gehlot, K C Venugopal etc are doing rounds but party insiders say a lot would depend on whether the nominee has Rahul’s blessings or not.

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Since May 2019, when Rahul Gandhi stepped down from Congress’ top post, he has remained non-committal and evasive. Rahul has been asking party leaders to choose a successor without involving him. There are virtually no takers for it. Rahul’s idea of an accountable, collective leadership where he and his family have limited interest or interference in party affairs, has repeatedly been shelved by a clique of around 150 Congress leaders.

This clique consists of many Congress Working Committee members, heads of state party units, CLP leaders and other influential leaders. They consider themselves as Rahul-Sonia-Priyanka appointees and do not fancy a situation where their patrons would not be throwing a protective ring around them. This seemingly paradoxical situation has been root cause of the indecisiveness surrounding a to be newly elected leader.

For some, the appointment of new AICC chief does not have so much bearing as the political leadership of the Congress is firmly in the hands of Gandhis. What they are searching for or interested in is Sonia-Rahul’s choice of Vora-Patel successor(s). Would it be someone from the generation next — Kanishka Singh, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora signalling change or veterans such as Rajiv Shukla, Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot or D K Shivkumar indicating continuation.

Moreover, the job of a treasurer is such that money matters cannot wait particularly when Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry assembly polls are round the corner.

Former union minister Pawan Bansal is currently managing the AICC funds. Bansal is not seen as ‘weighty’ enough to become fulltime AICC treasurer. As it is known, the job of AICC treasurer in the Congress is most sought after. It has been previously held by the likes of Uma Shankar Dixit, Atulya Ghosh, Pranab Mukherjee, P.C. Sethi, Sitaram Kesri, Motilal Vora and Ahmed Patel. Most of these individuals were those who enjoyed successive party high command’s confidence simply because they were in the loop of confidential details of how the money was coming and where it was going. The party treasurer’s job is not only to mobilize funds but marshal crowd and support from within the party ranks even when leader’s [read Rahul] luck does not favour in the bulk of assembly and parliamentary elections.

The curiosity pertaining to such a ‘go to’ or point-man is not without merit. Both Sonia and Rahul have been reticent persons. Meeting or talking to them has not been easy even before COVID-19 restrictions. Vora and Patel had been effective managers who used to meet virtually anyone and everyone and take up their issues to the ‘high command.’

Some want Priyanka Gandhi to play that role but she would not act without getting a nod from Rahul. Any meaty role for Rajiv Shukla would indicate Priyanka’s clout. Shukla has been Priyanka groupie much before she joined politics.

Another name that rings bell is Kanishka Singh, a key aide to Rahul Gandhi. Formerly with the New York-based merchant banking firm Lazard Freres & Co and son of distinguished diplomat S K Singh, Kanishka, addressed as ‘K’ in the Congress circles, was being schooled by late Motilal Vora in handling Nehru-Gandhi family run trusts, AICC properties spread over the country and the legal cases relating to The National Herald.

With each passing day, the passing away of Ahmed Patel – Mozart of political fixings for Congress is being missed. Party insiders say Sonia had a sour experience of sort in 2019 when a senior party leader, now with G-23, was tasked to collect funds and a portion was not reportedly accounted for. Tough days are ahead for Gandhis in selecting a person on whom they can rely upon in the Vora-Patel mould.

[Author-Journalist Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting Fellow of the Observer Research Foundation. He tracks government and politics and considered a specialist on Congress party affairs.]

Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and views of ABP News Network Pvt Ltd.

 

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