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Opinion | How Arun Jaitley’s words about Congress proved to be prophetic

“Congress Party, as a ‘headless chicken’, is further consolidating its alienation from the people of India. New India has changed. Only Congress does not realise this. The Congress leadership is determined to succeed in its race to the bottom”.  – Arun Jaitley on Facebook on August 6, 2019, 18 days before his death.

Rajat Sharma Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive
New Delhi Published on: August 25, 2020 10:03 IST
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How Arun Jaitley’s words about Congress proved to be prophetic

“Congress Party, as a ‘headless chicken’, is further consolidating its alienation from the people of India. New India has changed. Only Congress does not realise this. The Congress leadership is determined to succeed in its race to the bottom”.  – Arun Jaitley on Facebook on August 6, 2019, 18 days before his death.

“Aspirational India has proved it once again that India wants growth and a leadership that believes in country first & acts tirelessly for the people. Aspirational India does not accept Royalties, Dynasties and caste-based parties. Fake issues don’t work. The final results point in the same direction as the exit polls. What is the accountability of those who were bringing a bad name to India’s democracy both domestically and internationally by raking up the VVPAT issue?” – Arun Jaitley on Facebook on May 23, 2019, after the general election results were out.

“Prime Minister’s style of rising above caste & concentrating on performance-related issues received far more acceptability with the electorate. I re-assert my earlier hypothesis that in Congress the first family is no longer an asset but an albatross around the neck of the Party.”- Arun Jaitley in Facebook on May 20, 2019

These were prophetic words by my friend, philosopher and guide Arun Jaitley, who passed away exactly one year ago. Even after a year, I find it difficult to reconcile with the fact that he has ceased to exist physically among us. His words still resonate in the ears of all those who were close to him. His personal style of dealing with people, friends and even political adversaries. 

Yes, even political adversaries. Jaitley never considered the Congress leaders as his political enemies,  he considered them only as political adversaries. He was always ready to offer sound advice even to his adversaries. 

Jaitley used to say that the Congress party is burdened with its own past, it is unwilling to learn from history, and in the process, it is gradually fading into history. The drama that was enacted among the top leaders of Congress party on Monday, made me remember how my friend Jaitley’s words were prophetic. I have quoted some of his writings at the top of this blog, written days and weeks before he undertook his final journey.

On the day of Arun Ji’s first death anniversary, the top leadership of the Congress on Monday was witness to an unseemly tussle over the leadership issue. At the Congress working committee meeting, Sonia Gandhi offered to step down as interim president, but senior leaders like Dr. Manmohan Singh, A K Antony and Ahmed Patel, urged her to continue as interim chief and bring about necessary changes.  At the meeting, Gandhi family loyalists attacked the signatories to the letter from ‘Group of 23’ for being insensitive about Sonia Gandhi’s health. Rahul Gandhi said at the meeting that he was pained by the letter, “because she is also my mother and you chose to attack her at this weak moment.” 

What was the letter that the ‘group of 23’ including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Veerappa Moily, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, Shashi Tharoor,  Mukul Wasnik, Jitin Prasada, and others had written?  They had written that the party was now in a state of drift and decline and there was a need for urgent correctives. They called for the election of a “full-time, visible and effective” leadership active in the field and available at national and state party headquarters.  The signatories also called for elections at all levels, including CWC, in a transparent manner.

Calling for the party to elect a new “full-time, visible” president amounted to mounting a challenge to Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Expectedly, the party high command crushed this show of dissent against the Gandhi family on Monday, by rallying around Sonia and Rahul, and rejected the demand for change put forward by the group of 23. 

The working committee that discussed the issue for seven hours ultimately decided to continue with the Sonia-Rahul leadership with a stern message that “no one will be permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership at this juncture.” In her closing remarks, Sonia Gandhi said she held no “ill-will” towards the letter writers. “I am hurt, but they are my colleagues, bygones are bygones, let us work together.”

The working committee resolution moved by Dr Manmohan Singh, said, “The CWC…unanimously resolved to strengthen the hands of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in every possible way”.  The party decided to continue with Sonia Gandhi as interim president until an AICC session was called in six months, to launch the search for new party chief.

As the working committee meeting was on, there were fireworks going on in the social media, when reports of Rahul accusing the dissenters of “colluding with BJP” surfaced and were followed by another alleging that Ghulam Nabi Aad has offered to resign if Rahul could “prove his involvement with BJP”. Senior leader Kapil Sibal posted an angry tweet on Twitter but later withdrew saying that Rahul personally told him he never made such a remark.

Gulam Nabi Azad later said, “let me make it very clear that Rahul Gandhi at no point of time has said, either outside or in the CWC meeting, that the letter was written at the instance, or at the behest or in collusion with the BJP.  Some Congresspersons wrote yesterday that we are doing this at the behest of BJP. It is in that reference that I said that it is most unfortunate that some of our colleagues outside the CWC had gone to the extent of saying that the letter was sent at the behest of BJP.”

Ghulam Nabi Azad is not a new generation leader. He has worked as a minister under Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Dr. Manmohan Singh. He has a vast experience in party matters. I have no hesitation in saying that Rahul Gandhi stands nowhere in comparison with Azad in terms of experience. Azad is leagues ahead compared to Rahul as far as managing a party is concerned. 

Azad is always careful when he speaks. He thinks several times before opening his mouth. If Azad, along with others, writes a letter to Sonia Gandhi, it means he is trying to convey the sentiments of his partymen after careful consideration. There is nothing wrong in it. One could have understood if Sonia Gandhi had reacted, but for Rahul to make a remark about “collusion with BJP” may not be palatable to a diehard Congressman. Even after being named by leaders from Rahul camp, Azad maintained his dignity and refused to join issue with them in public.

It is distressing when I find that the Congress as a party has failed to find a president for the last one year, and the situation has come to such a pass that senior party leaders are unwilling to work under Rahul Gandhi as party chief. Their words are blunt and clear: enough is enough, no more experiments. They are saying, either Sonia Gandhi agrees to work as party president or let the party elect its new president because the interim process is hurting the party.  These dissenters were however outnumbered on Monday, when three chief ministers Capt Amarinder Singh, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel, along with former CM Kamal Nath openly demanded that the party leadership be handed over to Rahul Gandhi. 

One thing that emerges from Monday’s daylong drama is that senior, experienced Congress leaders have complaints about Rahul’s style of working. This has been evident not now, but for the last several months and yet the leaders are afraid of speaking out in public. 

I know several Congress leaders who told me privately that they feel suffocated working with Rahul, but in public they have to express loyalty to his leadership. Their sense of desperation show when 23 of them jointly write a letter to the party chief. They feel that when Rahul makes personal attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mixing truth with falsehood, it harms the party in the long run.  But that does not matter the least to Rahul Gandhi. He immediately remarked that the letter was written at the behest of BJP. 

At the last CWC meeting, Rahul had obliquely remarked that some of the Congress leaders were afraid to criticize Modi, and he was the only one who was not “scared of Modi”. This loose remark had deeply hurt many Congress leaders at that time, but none of them spoke out. This time, Kapil Sibal was furious and he immediately tweeted to remind how he defended the party in the past, both in public and in courts.  Ghulam Nabi Azad also expressed his displeasure over the ‘collusion’ charge. It is a different matter that Rahul personally phoned these leaders and tried to calm them.

Looking at the issue in perspective, I believe this is only a temporary ceasefire because the embers are still glowing beneath the ashes.

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