Rahul’s role after his elevation

Harihar Swarup

Rahul Gandhi has improved tremendously, sooner than expected as he prepares to take over the mantle of the Congress President, a position held by his mother, father, grandmother and great-grandfather. He is no longer called “Pappu” by his critics. He has now become a leader by his own right and matured as he campaigns in Gujarat where a shattered Congress has emerged as a formidable force to face the BJP in the coming assembly elections. It is said in lighter vein that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made him a leader by his sustained attacked on Gandhi scion. On his part, Rahul replied with same ferocity and learnt the tactic of political brinkmanship.
Rahul appears to be a young man in hurry and his impulses are almost like his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru. It is early to say if his tempers will be like famous Nehruvian temper. He does not have poise and calm of his father Rajiv Gandhi.
If the Congress wins in Gujarat—party has doubtless improved enormously—Rahul’s image will sky-rocket. He will take over as the Congress chief before the first phase of polling in the state on December 9. Gujarat may prove a turning point in Rahul’s political career; luck appears to be smiling on him. He will also lead the poll campaign in next year’s election in Madhya Pradesh where Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s image has touched rock-bottom, besides the heavy anti-incumbency. The other elections due are in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in the run up to Lok Sabha poll in 2019.
As Rahul taken up the gigantic challenging of reviving the party, he has certain advantages; he faces no major dissent from within; no ideological divisions either. But this wasn’t the case always. The 14 men and two women—giants and dwarfs—who preceded him in the years after Independence faced a range of circumstances that were peculiar to their historical and political contexts, and that of the Congress party of the time. What were they? How did these presidents deal with them?
Kripalani, Congress President in 1947, was a leader and intellectual in his own right, but the party was packed with towering leaders—Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Vallabhbhai Patel, Mahatma Gandhi himself. Nehru backed Kripalani, more so, to counter the conservative Purushottam Das Tandon. But Nehru rejected Kripalni’s view that the party should be consulted on important decisions and policy pronouncements of the government. The Prime Minister had the upper hand in the first party versus government tussle in independent India—Kripalani was succeeded by the low-key Pattabhi Sitaramayya at the Congress’s Jaipur session in 1948.
A power struggle erupted in 1950 when Tandon, backed by Patel staked claim to the post. The other contenders were Kriplani and Shankarrao Deo, a member of the Constituent Assembly. Nehru had no particular liking for either, but was vehemently opposed to Tandon. After Tandon was elected, despite Nehru’s opposition, he initially refused to be a member of the Working Committee. He relented later, but the crisis came to a head after Tandon did not honour Nehru’s wish that his colleague Rafi Ahmed Kidwai be elected in the CWC. Kidwai quit the Congress but stayed on in the cabinet. Tandon objected and Kidwai had to resign.
In July 1951, Nehru forced a showdown by resigning from the CWC. The party was wrecked by a full-blown crisis. Months later, Tandon too resigned. Nehru was elected President. He was succeeded by U N Dhebar, who was President until 1959.
Indira Gandhi succeeded Dhebar in May, 1959 but stayed in the post for only few months. Neelam Sanjiva Reddy took over in January 1960 and, in 1964, the presidentship passed on to K. Kamaraj, who had been President of the Tamil Nadu Congress and Chief Minister of Madras. Within months, the party plunged into, perhaps, its biggest crisis since independence.
On May 27, 1964, Nehru died, and Kamaraj, then President for four months, faced the challenge of negotiating the transition. Morarji Desai, the heavyweight from Gujarat, had thrown hat in the ring even as Kamaraj began a massive exercise to consult the party chief ministers and MPs. A meeting of the extended CWC at the end of May produced no decision. By then Kamaraj had realized that Lal Bahadur Shastri had popular support; Morarji too understood he was not the first choice of most leaders. Kamaraj persuaded him to withdraw, and Shastri became Prime Minister.
The next big challenge came in January, 1966 when Shastri passed away unexpectedly in Tashkent. Kamaraj faced managing the transition again. Morarji, for the second time, staked his claim. But Kamaraj had other plans. He wanted Indira to take over. He consulted CMs, who ensured Indira’s candidature. Morarji lobbied hard, but Kamaraj, with the party old guards, ensured Indira secured a majority in the Congress Parliamentary Party and became the Prime Minister.
The history of the Congress is long with the party having seen extreme ups and downs but the worst time came after 2014 elections when the party plunged in an all-time low; reduced to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha. Rahul takes over the reign of the party at this critical juncture and has to rebuilt the organization brick by brick.
Sonia Gandhi took over as the Congress President when the party was disintegrating. Her greatest contribution was to unify the Congress and prevent it from further disintegrating. She is the longest serving Congress President; over 13 years. Under her, the Congress ruled as many as 16 states and ruled the centre for two terms of five years each. She will also be remembers for declining to become Prime Minister and instead putting the crown on the head of Manmohan Singh, a noted economist, known for his integrity and honesty. (IPA)

Wednesday, 29 November, 2017