By Prashant Sood
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s long “leave of absence” appears to have accentuated the debate in the Congress on his possible elevation with clear differences among party leaders on the issue. While a section wants him to assume the mantle at the earliest, there are leaders who want party president Sonia Gandhi to continue steering the party.
“There are two groups in the party. One is keen on Rahul Gandhi’s early elevation and the other wants that he should continue as vice-president and Sonia Gandhi should continue leading the party. There will, hopefully, be clarity once Rahul Gandhi returns,” an All India Congress Committee (AICC) functionary said.
The functionary, who did not want to be named, said that varied statements by senior leaders have caused apprehension among the party rank and file.
“We get calls from party workers in states wanting to know what will happen. The earlier there is certainty over the issue, the better it is for the party,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi, 44, who is an MP from Amethi, has been on leave of absence for almost 50 days with no indication of disclosure about the place he has gone to. After he went on leave, Congress leaders said he had requested for time to reflect on the future course for the party. With questions being asked about his long leave, Congress leaders say he will take part in the party’s April 19 rally against the redrafted land bill of the National Democratic Alliance government.
Some sources said while there is a view in the party that Rahul Gandhi should assume mantle of party leadership within weeks of his return, there is another view that any change should come at the end of organisational election process in the party which is underway.
“If he becomes party president without following the organisational process, it will go against his own emphasis on internal democracy. It will be difficult to explain it to people,” a party leader said, declining to be named in view of the sensitivity of the issue involved.
However, he added that voices favouring Rahul’s elevation are likely to grow after his return.
Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh and former union minister Kamal Nath are among those party leaders who have said that Rahul Gandhi should take over as party president. Former Punjab chief minister and the party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Captain Amarinder Singh is among those who want Sonia Gandhi to continue to lead the party and for “Rahul Gandhi to work under her” for some more time.
Leaders in favour of Rahul Gandhi’s elevation and those who want his mother Sonia Gandhi to continue have different logic.
A senior party leader who sees merit in Rahul Gandhi’s early elevation, says that “generational change is inevitable.”
The leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Rahul Gandhi should get a free hand to implement his ideas and his plans for the party’s rejuvination.
“He has a clear mind. His vision is clear. His road map is clear,” this leader said.
He said Rahul Gandhi should be given time to execute his plans and there was no use in taking a decision on his elevation after a few months.
“What will change in a few months,” he asked.
The leader admitted that there were some senior leaders in the party who were hesitant to some ideas of Rahul Gandhi.
“They are unable to understand his vision of rejuvenating the Congress,” he said.
The section which wants Sonia Gandhi to continue leading the party says she is the best leader at a time when the party is going through one of its most difficult phases.
The Congress was reduced to 44 seats in the last Lok Sabha elections and has since finished third or fourth in successive assembly polls. In Delhi assembly elections earlier this year, the party failed to open its account.
These leaders say that every party worker strongly connects with Sonia Gandhi and she has demonstrated an ability to galvanise the party and take it on the path to recovery.
“There are no reasons why Rahul Gandhi cannot work as vice-president…He needs more experience. He needs to go around the country,” Capt Amarinder Singh said in an interview.
Former party MP Sandeep Dikshit said last week that Sonia Gandhi was needed at the helm more than ever in the past.
Officially, Congress leaders have refused to get into the internal simmering and said there is no conflict in the party.
“Soniaji is our leader. This matter (Rahul’s elevation) has to be decided when the time comes,” party spokesperson Meem Afzal said.
A party office-bearer said that Sonia Gandhi herself may be keen to pass on the baton to her son early and see him chart the path for the future.
He said that Sonia Gandhi, who is the party’s longest-serving president, was not likely to seek another term in office at the end of the party’s organisational polls in September.
The office-bearer said that latent tensions about “Old Guard versus Gen Next” seemed to be easing and even if Rahul Gandhi is elevated early, there may not be drastic changes in the party’s top echelons.
“There will be place for seniors also. Look at the media team that has been recently reconstituted. None of the seniors was removed while many young and articulate faces were added,” he said.