When Ghulam Nabi Azad last met Rahul Gandhi, the latter reportedly told an aide to “get Ghulam Nabi some tea.” The veteran leader, a former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, felt hugely disrespected and told others, “Mrs Gandhi has always called me Azad Saab. Yet, today, her son insulted me.”
In histoday, the 73-year-old was not shy of blaming Rahul Gandhi or his mother. “You are just a nominal figurehead, decisions are being taken by Rahul Gandhi security guards and PAs,” he wrote to Sonia Gandhi. The aide who was asked to serve him tea was a security guard.
Azad has become the senior-most leader to quit the Congress, and has catalogued the “childish behaviour, glaring immaturity” of Rahul Gandhi who he said has also demolished the “consultative mechanism within the party”. Sources say Azad is likely to form a new party.
As the pejoratives pile up for the Gandhi-heavy leadership of the party and loyalists leap to defend them, it’s getting harder to argue their case. Consider the trickle which started with Himanta Biswa Sarma who blamed Rahul Gandhi for paying more attention to his dog than Sarma in a meeting. The came the exits of Jyotiraditya Scindia, Amarinder Singh, R. P. N. Singh, Sushmita Dev, Kapil Sibal, Jitin Prasada. Persistent rumours around the exit of another senior leader are making the rounds.
The much-heralded Congress organisational election meant to select a new President has been postponed because the “current dates are not auspicious according to astrology”. But seniors within the Congress say this too is the work of Rahul Gandhi, who is calling the shots while using his mother as a shield.
As the distress smoke wafts out of the Congress, do the Gandhis really care? Sonia Gandhi and her children are abroad to handle her medical treatment.
The Congress Seva Dala riposte “Congress nidar hain, joh dar gaye Azad hain“. Twitter is pretty much where the Congress exists these days.
The party has followed a yawn-inducing script on Azad’s exit, questioning his abilities as a mass leader and saying he was acting at the behest of the BJP because Modi had praised him in parliament last year in February. Both responses are juvenile. If Azad was so lacklustre, why did the Congress make much of him for for four decades? And if Modi was making overtures to him, why couldn’t the Congress stop him? The BJP had offered Azad a Rajya Sabha seat when his term ended in February last year, sources confirm to me.
Days ago, another senior Congress leader, Anand Sharma, went public with the “insults” and “lack of consultation” courtesy the Gandhi family. Sharma said he would not be involved in the campaign for Himachal Pradesh, his own state, which will vote with Gujarat. The Congress, eternally caught in its existential crisis, is widely expected to perform badly and hand over political space to newbie AAP, which is contesting both states. AAP hoovers up Congress votes in bipolar states and ensures that the Congress is not able to recapture any ground that’s been lost, like in Delhi.
The Congress currently governs two big states and in Rajasthan, the never-ending story of the feud between Ashok Gehlot as Chief Minister and Sachin Pilot, who wants to replace him as head of the state, prattles on. The Gandhis hope to end the impasse by moving Gehlot to Delhi as Congress President, and giving Pilot what he wants – Chief Minister. But Gehlot isn’t budging yet.
Senior Opposition leaders worry about the state of the Congress which was expected to function as the main fulcrum of Opposition unity. From Sharad Pawar to Mamata Banerjee, they make no bones about the fact that they don’t take Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. And the Congress insists that only Rahul Gandhi can be its presumptive Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the Gandhis, as always, can take comfort in the coterie of the unelectable who will continue to maintain that the Congress cannot exist without being run by the Gandhis. No wonder the BJP is far more focused on Arvind Kejriwal. The Congress is best left to its own devices to marginalize its impact.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.