In a sense, the wheel has come full circle. On March 14, 1998, Sonia Gandhi was made Congress President by a virtual coup manufactured against Sitaram Kesri by party stalwarts like Pranab Mukherjee, Jitendra Prasada, Sharad Pawar, and a host of others. Kesri was locked up until Sonia formally replaced him. It was a clumsy, insulting operation.
The Sunday Story
It is a relief therefore that, after several gyrations, the Congress Party held its first election for President in 20 years. The remarkable feature of Mallikarjun Kharge’s elevation is this: he is the first Dalit President of the Congress and he came through a free and fair election. Shashi Tharoor, three times MP from Thiruvananthapuram, contributed to the credibility of the outcome by putting up a real fight giving notice that he was the preferred candidate of 11 percent of the 9915 strong electoral rolls. In defeat, Tharoor’s stature in the party has grown.
Some blame must be placed at the door of the Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot for having devalued the stature of the Congress President by preferring not to be one. If there was an official Gandhi nominee for the job, it was Gehlot. But he found the Jaipur gaddi more alluring than Congress Presidentship. He chose to be a Chief Minister on a long leash rather than a Party President on a short one – so he imagines.
In a Congress dispensation, Party President is the top job when the party is in the opposition. When in power, the President has often been the Prime Minister, a system discontinued after Sonia Gandhi, sensing her foreign origin might be raked up, shirked from Prime Ministership. Sushma Swaraj had given notice that she would have her hair shorn, should Sonia be seen anywhere near the Prime Ministerial chair.
Kharge will be watching the Pilgrim’s progress with as much interest as Meroli Shnigha the 10th-grade student from St. Joseph’s School Mulgumoodu, Tamil Nadu. Rahul had left Meroli wonderstruck by doing 10 pushups in seconds last year. The Tamil 10th grader will watch with admiration Rahul’s physical fitness, endurance, and stamina along the 3500 km he proposes to traverse, preparatory to the 2024 general elections.
Kharge’s eye will be on the mass mobilization, upsurge, popularity, and enrollments for the new party. The Gandhis with another serial loser, Sitaram Yechury as their Sancho Panza, were never able to resist the temptation of wanting to “revive” the Congress nationally and the CPM in Bengal.
The task at hand is to tone down your ego to a point where you become acceptable as coalition partners to leaders who are well entrenched in the regions. Coordinate with them for a role in the states; they coordinate with you for a role at the center. This is the way a “salad bowl” coalition takes shape as opposed to a coalition patched up with chewing gum.
May I, Khargeji, do you a favour with utmost humility? I would like to loan you my Pendrive loaded with the greatest political documentary I have seen in recent times. The Edge of Democracy focuses on an ideologically divided Brazil and how it is manipulated by the Corporates. Obama called Lula da Silva the “most popular politician on earth.” Then what happened?
The documentary is timely because the final run-off on October 30 is between Lula and Bolsonaro who was Narendra Modi’s handpicked chief guest for Republic Day three years ago. To this screening invite the Gandhis, your advisers, and the Working Committee. The discussion after the screening will expose the Judases at your supper, the Tweedledee who are in lockstep with Corporate patrons of Tweedledum.
You are taking over the reins of one of the world’s oldest parties at a time when the Ukraine war has caused a complete reordering of the global distribution of power. A hegemony is yielding to a multipolar world, a situation to which Modi’s foreign office is adjusting nicely. But there is one provison – the MEA’s heart is still with the US but its mind is with the ground realities.
Kharge’s cohorts will say: “but this is not what the media tells us.” Kharge is experienced enough to know that democracies worldwide have been subverted by big corporations who, one way or the other, control the media. These are the ventriloquists for whom the anchor is only a plausible town crier. O of course there are notable exceptions like a handful of anchors in NDTV.
This media gives you, the Congress, considerable attention because you have chosen to be a tweedledee and are therefore no threat to the established order. Ever since Randeep Surjewala declared him a “janeudhari” Brahmin, Rahul has been visiting temples at the rate of knots, Priyanka too has been vigorously pasting her forehead with thick vermillion and dipping in holy waters with amphibian ease.
The siblings hope that temple hopping will give them a slice of the Hindu vote which appears to be at the moment in the BJP’s thrall. The Aam Aadmi Party has done what the Koel does with her eggs. She lays them in the crow’s nest. AAP’s message to the Ram temple builder in Ayodhya is clever: you build the temple, and we shall send our Hindu constituents on a pilgrimage gratis.
These are tricks. What Kharge must focus on is strategy. For a strategy to become kinetic you need a party and an election machine. By the time Rahul returns from his yatra all charged up, bristling with ideas Kharge must have a preliminary plan ready for party elections right down to the bloc level. This is after Rahul’s heart.
The coming elections are important, of course, but will be a distraction if the optimism generated by Kharge’s election is not quickly harnessed to enervate a listless Congress by building it to its grassroots which will acquaint the Party President with bread-and-butter issues. Remember, a poor country must eventually settle on the left. In the course of redesigning a new architecture for the party, risks will have to be taken. Remember he who loses shall win.
Saeed naqvi is a senior Journalist