PAUSE FOR NOW … Congress in distress, but no firefighting yet amid smoke coming out of grand old tricolour super-structure

NEWS CONGRESS

Kodikunnil Suresh

NEW DELHI: The Congress party is largely in a state of paralysis, but some important decisions are being taken too. Senior Congress parliamentarian, Kodikunnil Suresh who represents Mavelikkara LS constituency in Kerala will be the chief whip of the party in the lower house. He is seven-time MP in the house and among the senior-most. He is also working president of the Congress in Kerala. His name had cropped up for the party’s floor leader post, but it went finally to a five-time MP from West Bengal and former PCC chief, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. He is a former Union minister of state for Railways.


Rahul Gandhi has reiterated on Thursday that he would not hold the post of Congress president. Now would he play any role in the selection of a president, he was quoted by a TV channel as saying. There is no clarity as to who the party chief would be. As things stand now, both Rahul and Priyanka are out of the picture. So is Sonia Gandhi. All the three would jointly back someone else but chances are also that Rahul Gandhi would be persuaded to remain as president for a little while more. Congressmen are at a loss to understand the mind of Rahul Gandhi, as he has declined to be the party’s floor leader in the Lok Sabha too. He will, however, remain as the party MP from Wayanad. In the past, Rahul Gandhi had participated in Lok Sabha discussions only rarely.

Congressmen are also bemused by the fact that a powerful orator like Shashi Tharoor has not been given the leadership of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, even as he had proposed himself for the post in case Rahul Gandhi did not come forward to claim it.

Trouble is brewing in the Congress at various fronts. The party is into serious trouble in several states and there’s no one to adjudicate matters now. The Karnataka PCC has been disbanded, and it would now be for a new party chief to reconstitute it even as the JUD-Congress government led by chief minister HD Kumaraswamy is being rocked by Congressmen in the state.

Rumours are that several Congress leaders are interested in making a shift to the BJP on one pretext or the other, but the BJP is not seen to be enthusiastic about extending an open-arms policy towards them. It might admit Congressmen selectively after a while.

With Raul Gandhi in withdrawal mode, one of his confidants, KC Venugopal from Kerala is crest-fallen. Another Kerala leader AK Antony is still in the reckoning of Sonia Gandhi, but there are several reasons why he might not be considered for the party chief’s post. With Rahul Gandhi relying on a new set of leaders, several party veterans had stood in the sidelines when the campaign scene warmed up for the LS polls.

Pranab

Party insiders keep saying it was AK Antony that Sonia Gandhi trusted the most also as he is cool-headed and sincere about his approaches to the family. He is performing the role once performed by Pranab Mukherjee to the family. In fact, Antony enjoys more trust. Pranab’s relationship with the Sonia enterprise was not always good. Even before Sonia’s time, he had quit the Congress and formed his own regional outfit in West Bengal, which proved to be a damp squib. Then he returned to the parent party and remained in ministries and also functioned as chief adviser to the family. Pranab Mukherjee is 83, and not in good health. For one, he is not trusted by the family now; for another, he as former President of the nation cannot come to the help of the party in any capacity.


How about Sharad Pawar? Senior politician and NCP leader Sharad Pawar was in Delhi in recent days. After Rahul Gandhi ruled out his continuation as the Congress president and also insisted that his sister Priyanka Gandhi should not be drawn in as a replacement for him. it appeared there was a leadership vacuum in the grand old party. Rahul Gandhi did not want her to face the same situation he faced as party leader. It is rumoured that Pawar sensed an opportunity. In this context, there were speculations that Pawar might be testing the waters for a return to the Congress and into its leadership. Rahul Gandhi did meet Pawar, but talks proceeded in other directions.

Pawar had quit the Congress party after attempting a coup in the party following Rajiv Gandhi’s demise. Pawar, already in the national politics then after having had a couple of stints as Maharashtra CM, threw in a tantrum, saying Sonia was not acceptable to him as party leader as she was a foreigner. Pawar thought he would get huge support from Congressmen, but he was mistaken. Distraught, he formed the NCP in 1999, which remained as a force to reckon with in western Maharashtra, mainly the Maratha heartland. That scenario too is now changing.

Sharad Pawar

Pawar’s health is not good and his own family members in the party – like daughter Supriya Sule MP, and nephew Ajit Pawar who was senior minister in Maharashtra – do not enjoy clout similar to his when it comes to public acceptance. Yet, she retained the family turf of Baramati for the third time in this Lok Sabha polls, with a margin of victory of over 1,50,000 votes. Ajit Pawar lost the Mawal LS seat by a huge margin, and ran for cover. Pawar’s overall clout is progressively reducing after being in leadership roles for the past half a century. This was evident in this polls too. The NCP won just four out of the total 48 LS seats from Maharashtra in the present polls – one seat less than what it got last time in 2014. NCP men feel only a return to parent party would save them from a disaster. But, the “family” would naturally be wary of Pawar. –IHN-NN

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