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A non-Gandhi president is not a magical wand for a Congress revival

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With Congress set to get a non-Gandhi president after over two decades, OneIndia talked with leading psephologist Dr Sandeep Shastri to delve deeper on the developments and consequences.

New Delhi, Oct 01: It is almost after over two decades that the Congress will have a non-Gandhi as the president. The Mallikarjuna Kharge vs Shashi Tharoor battle is being keenly watched by all and by October 19, the result would be clear.

While Kharge is a Gandhi family loyalist backing on experience, Tharoor speaks about a change. However, the larger question is how much of a difference would a non-Gandhi face make to the prospects of the party. OneIndia caught up with leading psephologist, Dr. Sandeep Shastri to discuss this further.

Shashi Tharoor and Mallikarjuna Kharge

Greetings Dr. Shastri. What are your initial impressions on the changes that the Congress is trying to make with the election process?

After Sitaram Kesri, the Congress will have its first non-Gandhi face as the president. The formal position of the current leadership is that they are not backing anyone. There is also an attempt to show in whatever way possible that there is 'internal democracy' in the party.

Do you believe it when the Gandhis say that they are not backing anyone?

The reality is that Kharge has the unofficial backing of the Gandhi family and the key leadership. This is clearly visible with the people who were with Tharoor and Kharge when they filed the nominations.

Congress presidential race: Mallikarjun Kharge vows for big changeCongress presidential race: Mallikarjun Kharge vows for big change

Do you think this would be a contested battle at the end of it?

Tharoor being a former diplomat has been very diplomatic in his approach. He has met with the current president, Sonia Gandhi prior to filing his nomination. In his manifesto, he says he wants to bring a non-jaded face. The snipes he is taking are also very clear. Given the long experience and backing that Kharge has, it is clear that he is a front-runner. I wouldn't be too surprised if Tharoor withdraws his nomination and Kharge wins unopposed.

Dr. Shastri, your take on Rahul Gandhi and his stance.

The key leaders in the Congress pleaded with him. There was this demand that he takes over, but Rahul Gandhi took a firm stance that someone from the non-Gandhi family should take over. He wants to constantly stay away from Delhi and show that he has nothing to do with the process although he would have been very much part of the discussions. It is a conscious attempt to stay away physically from the process. However, there is theatrics and there is a reality.

Would electing a non-Gandhi as president be the magic wand for the revival of the Congress?

To say that electing a non-Gandhi as president would be the magic wand to bring about a revival is a very simplistic argument. There are a range of factors for the decline of the party in the past two years and one of them is the absence of a decisive leadership. The Congress appears to have lost its hunger to come to power while the BJP on the other hand is a 24X7 machinery that wants to fight and win elections at all levels. There has been no clear roadmap provided by the Congress on how it would lead the country. In the past ten years, the party has been more reactive than proactive. They are clearly not setting the agenda.

What are your thoughts on the internal squabbles like the one in Rajasthan?

The party has not been able to recognise mass based leaders. Be it Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya or Goa, the leadership was clearly unable to handle the situation and ended up losing mass leaders. If the party is serious about a change, then it would depend on how the new president can build relations with the state units of the party.

Shashi Tharoor manifesto shows India's map without Jammu and KashmirShashi Tharoor manifesto shows India's map without Jammu and Kashmir

Your views assuming Kharge is elected the president?

The type of working relations he has with the Gandhis would be important. To be fair he has been very much a mass-based leader. He has lost an election only once in 2019. He has also built up support within the party and has vast administrative experience.

While he is an experienced leader, he has also missed a chance to be Karnataka Chief Minster thrice. Your thoughts?

Yes, he has missed out on it to S M Krishna, Dharam Singh and Siddaramaiah. He has not been able to be on the winning side where this is concerned. I would, however, not hold that against him. When it came to Krishna, he was up against him for the post of KPCC president. The convention is that the KPCC president becomes CM. In the case of Singh, it was the coalition JD(S) which had the bigger say. When it came to Siddaramaiah, he was a union minister. Inspite of him not getting his chance he remained loyal to the party.

Did loyalty come in the way of his ambitions?

Politicians decide on what they priorities are. The fact that Devendra Fadnavis took on the position of deputy chief minister in Maharashtra was a signal that the party is bigger than the individual.

Would it be hard to say that Kharge in case he wins will be a dummy of the Gandhis?

We will need to wait and see. This would be a premature presumption and unfair to the new president. That is an image he will have to try and prove is not correct. It would be interesting to see how he would demonstrate his autonomy. No doubt the Gandhis will always play a role, but the question is how much space they would give the new leadership.

Do you see the battle in 2024 as one being Kharge vs Modi?

I fervently hope that this does not become the basis of the contest. If that is the case, it is a battle that is already lost. The battle should be on issues. If this leadership battle is encouraged then the Congress has already lost the plot.

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