India’s Congress party forces out Gen Next leaders

Jitin Prasada with Union Minister Piyush Goyal
Congress leader Jitin Prasada with Union Minister Piyush Goyal, during his BJP joining ceremony at BJP headquarters in New Delhi Image Credit: PTI

They were made much off, given glittering plum jobs, endless election tickets to represent the Congress party through every defeat. They were part of Team Rahul Gandhi, representing the Gen-Next of India’s oldest political party.

Now after two defections — first Jyotiraditya Scindia who crashed the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh and now Jitin Prasada — the forlorn bunch of those who remain — like Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora and R P N Singh are being viewed with suspicion and shunned as silver spoon heirloom politicians.

The trio feels shortchanged despite Pilot being promised a redressal of his grievances against Ashok Gehlot, Chief Minister, Rajasthan ten months ago; Deora a target of attack and derision of the Congress social media cell, asking him to leave and Singh, not sticking his head above the parapet and making any political waves.

Pilot feels angry and restless but, not yet ready to quit the party and for which he worked hard for six years on a punishing electoral schedule to get it back to power. Deora had an offer from the top leadership of the BJP to switch, but he didn’t act on it.

Sources close to Deora say that all it will take is for Rahul Gandhi, former Congress president, to say that he does not want the Maharashtra Congressman in the party and he will walk.

The next generation leaders have seen themselves becoming redundant to Gandhi’s new angry left politics and feel that they are almost being forced out of the Congress party.  

A rudderless opposition

One leader told Gulf News, “my child plays with Lego but, even they know that you can’t force a square peg in to a round hole. Gandhi, on a personal level, is a very good person. It’s just that he can’t use his leaders and cadres properly. No one is given roles which benefit their skills.”

Take the case of Pilot, an ambitious 24/7 leader who nearly rebelled and toppled the Gehlot government last year. The Gandhi family — all three of them in active politics — made joint assurances to him to walk back his rebellion. A three-member committee under the late Ahmed Patel was set up.

After Patel passed away, the committee has not even met once while Gehlot continues to play political hardball with Pilot, luring MLAs loyal to him with goodies (government offers). From deputy Chief Minister and Rajasthan Congress chief, Pilot has now seen his status reduced to a mere MLA. On top of that he faces daily attrition from the Gehlot camp.

Meanwhile, all that the Gandhi family offers him are half hearted assurances and meaningless offers to join the party as an officer bearer in the central team.

Contrast the way Pilot has been treated with the way Navjot Singh Sidhu, who defected from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) five years ago, has been assuaged by the Gandhi family in his war against Amarinder Singh, Punjab Chief Minister (and the only mainstream leader the Congress still has in the north of India).

Singh, who will face elections in a few months, was made to appear before a committee and publicly cut to size. It appears that Sidhu has been assured of a plum role in his crusade against Singh.

Pilot, currently in Delhi to meet the “high command”, is hoping for a Sidhu sort of face saver and some accommodation for his camp in local Rajasthan cooperatives.

While Pilot is counselled patience, leaders in his camp say that ten months have already passed.

What Pilot and Deora don’t realise is that Gandhi has moved on with his politics. They are currently excess political baggage, which only serve to remind him that he is a fourth generation dynast, pretty much like them.

The Congress, once represented the big tent of politics, being many things to many voters. It was also the party of governance which ensured India achieved double digit growth.

The Gen next, who were all ministers in the Manmohan Singh led UPA government, are comfortable with that brand of governance and growth politics. Gandhi has shrunk the big tent down to a permanent personal opposition to Modi and Shah.

The only story the Congress tells and that too mainly on social media is that they oppose the BJP. How they will change politics and governance in India is still a story Gandhi is unable to tell.

A tirade against Modi

Currently Gandhi is on a campaign against the Modi government, which as per him is for rich cronies. As his politics has changed to being hard left, he is now member of the Parliament for Wayanad in Kerala, the heirloom politicians find no room in the new Congress.

Gandhi wants to be the antithesis of Modi and this group which were earlier close to him now just seem a reminder of entitlement and privilege.

Magically the moment the dynasts like Scindia and Prasada join the BJP, the dynast tag is forgotten. Venkiah Naidu, Vice President of India had once memorably said “dynasty is nasty”. That is no longer the case for the BJP.

Gandhi and his politics are still a mystery to most of India. If he now believes in the politics of the Left, the Congress should have won Kerala in the recent assembly elections.

Assam was also winnable, yet the Congress lost. The party will be a non starter in the big battle of Uttar Pradesh, slated for February next year which the BJP is desperate to win.

Leaders of the opposition such as Sharad Pawar, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister, who have been spectators of the Congress leadership crisis since 2014, seem to have decided to move on without the Congress as election strategist Prashant Kishor works on a united opposition to take on the BJP.

Both Pawar and Banerjee were erstwhile congress leaders much like Pilot and Deora today. Pawar runs a coalition government with the Congress and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, yet does not seem sanguine about the prospects of the party and the Gandhi family.

Respect for Rahul Gandhi from opposition leaders will only come with an electoral victory. Till then he has the opposition in his party to fight with.

Swati Chaturvedi

@bainjal

Swati Chaturvedi is an award-winning journalist and author of ‘I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP’s Digital Army’.