Treading on the same path yet again?

It is said that there is no armor against destiny. That has been proved once again with the sudden departure of Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to USA for an operation at a time when the Congress party was coming under attack from all corners both inside and outside Parliament. But then the Congress party has faced such scenarios in the past and got over them as well. Before leaving for her operation, Mrs. Gandhi appointed a four member team to look after the party affairs.

On a closer look one could see that the Congress President has taken a leaf from her late  husband’s book, who after the tragic assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi took over as the prime minister and appointed a three member parliamentary secretaries team which became famous as the Amar–Akbar-Anthony team. These three members were Arjun Singh, Ahmed Patel and Oscar Fernandes representing three different communities.
Mrs. Gandhi has more or less adopted the same formula by putting the overall charge of the party on the gang of four where her son Rahul Gandhi has been given a bigger responsibility along with her trusted lieutenant and political advisor Ahmed Patel, Defence Minister A K Antony and AICC General secretary Mr Janardan Dwivedi. In the process, she has baffled many political pundits as well. Many are baffled that four top guns who have been running the affairs of the country including the Prime Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukharjee who has been working as the party’s main fire fighter, negotiator, Home Minister Mr. P Chidambaram and AICC general secretary Mr. Digvijaya Singh who has been described as the party’s secular face and Rahul Gandhi’s mentor, find themselves out.
A serious debate is still going on within Congress circles if the appointment of this gang of four was a clear expression of  Mrs. Gandhi’s lack of faith in other top party leaders or was it a deliberate move to de-link the top four Congress leaders from the core group and prepare a  fresh team for the  future leadership of the party while  trusting them to run the affairs of the government.
A few senior Congress leaders have taken pains to explain to the media at large that barring A K Antony, all the three members were from the organization and the  party in  Mrs. Gandhi’s absence would be run by an ideal mix of a  Hindu, Muslim and a Christian. In any case, this arrangement was ad hoc and there is not any big issue pending before the AICC and this would also give a glimpse of their capabilities for a month.
 The logic behind not keeping all the four top ministers in this group is that since the Parliament was in session and there were many important issues with which these leaders were preoccupied and hence, there is no point in putting additional burden on their heads.
On the face of it, the new arrangement looks normal. But a closer look at the group of four clearly indicates the thinking of Mrs. Gandhi and overall dynamics of the party structure in the event of any succession.
One way of looking at it is that  the Congress President thinks that it is time that Rahul Gandhi was  given  bigger responsibility as he  was capable of leading the country in case of the need for a leadership change. In any case, Gandhi family loyalists would not have approved of a core group in her absence without a Gandhi tag.
 Secondly, it was also an indication that Rahul Gandhi and A K Antony would be the choices of Mrs. Gandhi for the party Chief as well as Prime Ministership in the event of succession.
Third, both Ahmed Patel and Janardan Dwivedi come from Rajya Sabha and they and not considered as mass leaders and thereby have been loyal to 10 Janpath since long. While Mr Patel has remained the eyes and ears of Mrs. Gandhi and virtually micro-managing the Congress affairs since long from 10 Janpath in her name, Janardan Dwivedi has been the Hindi speech writer of Mrs. Gandhi since she became the party president.
The biggest loser in this new arrangement has been M. Pranab Mukherjee. He has been the chief architect and trouble shooter for the party since many years apart from heading over 40 GOMs and finding solution to governance and political issues.  The question being debated in close quarters is whether  A K Antony is more competent than him or is it because of the fact that Mrs. Gandhi has still not forgotten that her husband Rajiv Gandhi did not trust Mukherjee because he had toyed with the idea of becoming prime minister himself after the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Or is it because of the fact that Mr. Mukherjee is still nursing his ambition to grab the Prime Minister’s post should Dr. Manmohan Singh bow out in case of  more scathing attack being launched on him with regard to 2G, Antrix deal and even CWG.
On the other hand, A K Antony’s claim to fame is his clean image and total loyalty to the Gandhis even as his detractors bemoan that Antony is sometimes too rigid, inarticulate and lacks proficiency in Hindi and he would find it extremely difficult to boost the Congress party in the Hindi heartland. Could it also mean Antony is being readied for an interim role in an unforeseen situation should Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demit office and Rahul Gandhi is yet unprepared?
The other surprise is the omission of Digvijaya Singh who has been seen as the most secular and at the same time, aggressive face of the party apart from being the mentor of Rahul Gandhi. He was instrumental in the third successive victory of Congress party in Assam. But his detractors within the party also claim that Mr. Singh has a knack of courting controversies and make statements on those issues which are aimed at pleasing the Muslim minority alone.
In the first set of action, the AICC has already made some changes in the names of office bearers including the induction of Ms Renuka Chaudhary and Rashid Alvi as spokespersons of the party. This is aimed at giving the indication that all is well in the party and the business runs as usual even in her absence. Renuka Chaudhary has come in place of Ms Jayanti Natrajan who has been made  Union Environment Minister while Rajya Sabha MP Rashid Alvi has come in place of Shakeel Ahmed as a prominent Muslim face from Uttar Pradesh. On the other hand, former union minister and MPCC president Mr. Suresh Pachauri has been made Convener of Department of Planning and Coordination earlier headed by Mani Shankar Aiyar and  Dr Girja Vyas has been appointed as the Chief of Vichar Vibhag.
At the moment, the indications are that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi may not be able to attend her normal work for at least another two months or even longer following operation. With State assembly elections for Manipur, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Goa, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab scheduled for early to the middle of next year, it remains to be seen how this new core group in the party is going to handle the series of challenges in the coming days.

– By Ajay N Jha

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