Rahul Gandhi is expected to be appointed the President of Indian National Congress on 19th December. In fact, he has finally taken the plunge and filed his nomination today. It seems to be a foregone conclusion because as per media reports, ‘state returning officers were asked to ensure that the nomination papers proposing Mr. Gandhi for the party president post should be filled properly and there should be no lacunae in them.’
The instruction may seem funny but the problem lies elsewhere. A sense of déjà vu pervades in the followers camp, they are not dancing with joy, they aren’t beyond themselves in their ecstasy to see their beloved leader being anointed as the Party President. Instead, they are behaving more like a groom who committed to marry his girlfriend seven years ago. The marriage is scheduled now but the world has changed quite a bit in the these seven years and the bride does not seem to be the right choice but the option of saying ‘no’ is foreclosed by the sense of commitment.
Congress needed a different leader, no doubt about that. Though the noise to make Rahul Gandhi President of Congress was heard first in 2011; in the opinion pieces by friendly media and in the resolutions passed by some city level Congress committees, the image that got created over the years, in the minds of the cadre that Rahul Gandhi was an unwilling, diffident leader and the discomfort with him began showing itself in 2013 itself, with calls to Priyanka to take over. Ever since Rahul Gandhi’s coronation date was announced, the average worker is in a mental state where he is supposed to celebrate but is not sure whether he or she should? The problem Congress was facing could be defined as, “If not Rahul, who? It can’t be Priyanka because of taints carried by Robert Vadra and ownership of Congress cannot be handed over to any Khadge, Ramesh or Chidambaram.”
Congress needed a new leader and Varun Gandhi checked all the boxes.
Varun has a CV that matches the Congress requirements like a glove to a ‘hand’. He is a Gandhi, he is still young enough to be called a youth leader, he hasn’t done much of note in his life except inheriting the parliamentary seat from his mother so he comes with little unwanted baggage, he can claim to be a Hindu, a trait Congress in its new avatar of soft Hindutva, is looking for, he even has an anti Muslim speech to his credit that bolsters his credentials, he is married and has a son, so dynasty continuation is assured.
One quality that needs detailed explanation is that he carries no baggage of minority appeasement.
While Congress turned 180 degrees from its “Muslims have a first right on resources” to appeasing Hindus, It was funny (or plain ridiculous) when Rahul Gandhi went on a temple run in Gujarat after celebrating Holi and Diwali. For one who has always believed that Muslim appeasement would win elections, and that Saffron terror was a bigger threat than Lashkar-e-toiba, his desperate attempts to portray himself as a Janeudhari Hindu lacked any credibility, whatsoever.
On the other hand, Varun Gandhi does not come with such handicaps. With an unproven but widely rumored and reported speech where he abused Muslims under his belt, he cannot be accused of Muslim appeasement and can be projected as a real Hindu leader, without inviting any mirth or sarcasm.
In short, Varun has all the qualities that Congress needs in its President.
Family’s hold is retained while conducting a mock election
There has been lot of noise about the undemocratic coronation (in Congress it is called election) of Rahul Gandhi as President of Congress party. Two local level leaders of Pune have even created a storm in a spoon by arranging a mock fight between themselves on this issue.
Now assume a scenario : Varun Gandhi joined Congress and was nominated as a candidate for the President position. There would have been a fight between a Gandhi and a Gandhi, the family would have sent a quiet word to delegates whom to vote for, with the consent of the other. An election would have been held, democracy would be restored, winner would be a Gandhi either way, family would not have lost anything, followers would get a new leader, and the media could have gone to town about how the winds of democracy are blowing in the new look Congress party. Everybody would have won.
It would have suited both Maneka and Varun Gandhi
Both mother and son have a diffident relationship with BJP. Analysts equate this relationship with a situation where some estranged royals are forced to leave their palace and are forced to live as the guests of a local trader. They do get their due respect but no one treats them like royalty. They always suspect that while trader’s servants make a show of respect, they are mocked behind their backs, a thought that makes them highly uncomfortable, and all this while, they are unwilling to bring themselves down to the level of commoners or to be accepted as one of them.
Given above paradigm, Maneka Gandhi would always remain on the periphery of the power structure, but never at the center of it. She would always have a position but not an influential one and would always get faux respect but never the fawning adulation that a royal gets. Varun too, would have to be content with remaining an MP of the inherited parliamentary seat as BJP would not be able to find a position that satisfies his aspirations. Basically, a position where he gets treated like a star but does not need hard work as a commoner.
BJP would not have lost much, may have instead made gains
BJP needed Sanjay Gandhi’s family when it was in the 160 seat zone, i.e. during the era of Vajpayee and Advani. Using the estranged mother son duo’s antipathy towards the ruling family (then) was a tactic that was a good irritant to Gandhis. It also helped BJP win a couple of seats in Uttar Pradesh where it was without a charismatic leader, after Kalyan Singh left for ‘greener’ pastures.
However now that both are moving towards a point where they become too frustrated after sitting on the sidelines for too long (does it remind us of Shatrughan Sinha too?) and come out in the open with their disagreements and contentious positions on issues that dominate the discourse. Normally, BJP is wary of taking any action against such disgruntled leaders as such action dilutes the democratic credentials of the party but it can definitely do without the bad press it generates, which is further used by all opposition and media, like it is happening in case of Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha.
The BJP would do well to get rid of both the leaders before they become a pain in the neck and this was the perfect opportunity.
Of course, even if a suitable job and a suitable candidate exist in the same universe, a middleman is still needed. I hope that our esteemed journalists who used to fix the cabinet positions and mining deals during UPA era can take up this assignment. I am sure it would be a lucrative one. Maybe they could fix a family feud sometime in the future, after Rahul Gandhi loses yet another election and set the stage for Varun Gandhi to finally spare the BJP and migrate to the Congress, where he truly belongs? One can only hope.