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Nothing will change in Congress: For Gandhis, power stays but the onus shifts

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The credit for any positive development for Congress will continue to be appropriated by Gandhis, and in case of things going wrong, they would have a ready scapegoat in Kharge.

It was one poll whose result was never in doubt. With the so-called G23 leaders lined up behind him, family loyalist Mallikarjun Kharge's landslide win, over suave Shashi Tharoor, was a forgone conclusion. However, there are two important questions: Will Congress change; and the vice-like stranglehold of dynasty on the party loosen?

Nothing will change in Congress: For Gandhis, power stays but the onus shifts

Answer to both the questions is an emphatic NO. Nothing will change. However, there will be one difference -- Gandhis-Vadra trio will now hold power without responsibility. The credit for any positive development for Congress will continue to be appropriated by Gandhis, and in case of things going wrong, they would have a ready scapegoat in Kharge.

What shape the party would take in post-Kharge period, was clear from a recent article by a veteran Congress leader. Writing in a multi-edition English daily, Salman Khurshid, a former external affairs minister said, "...But this election does not decide who the undisputed leader of the party is and will remain. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will in different ways continue to provide leadership and guidance to the party for the future... He will look after the routine organisational responsibilities guided by the top leadership that will have more time to work on the vision and outreach as we go into election 2024 mode. How things will be streamlined and the consultative process fine-tuned will be worked out at the top. People who do not understand the ethos and culture of our party should just wait to see how things at the top will be managed."

Congress has not held internal elections for long. There have been only five elections in the party's 137-year-old history. The contest between Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor was only the sixth. Kharge's win is Pyrrhic one, in terms of Greek-Roman history. No doubt he won convincingly, but Shashi Tharoor didn't lose either. He grossed over a 1000 votes against Kharge, "unofficial official candidate".

Nothing will change in Congress

The real story is not the 7,897 votes the winner received, but the 1,072 ones the loser did -- for it shows that despite the obvious pressure, over a thousand Congress leaders voted for a change. The loser in this mock battle is Congress, for it hasn't now any chances of redemption, from its present miserable situation.

Why did the Gandhis sponsor Kharge, and worked to ensure Tharoor's defeat? Obviously the Gandhis wanted a candidate who would represent the existing centre of gravity of power in the Congress and help them continue their hold on the party machine. A vote for Kharge was a vote for status quo. It implies continuation of policies, strategies and leadership -- a combination that has landed Congress in the present morass.

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Apart from being subservient to the Gandhis, Kharge was active among other leaders to protest Enforcement Directorate (ED) summons to Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi in June and July. Kharge was later summoned by the ED in the alleged Rs 5,000-crore National Herald money laundering case. For over seven hours, he was interrogated by the agency, a day after it partially sealed the offices of Young India Limited, the company that owns Associated Journals.

Kharge is also accused of fostering a new dynasty. After winning the newly reserved Chittapur seat in 2008, he passed it onto Priyank, one of his children, who lost it in 2008, but won the seat in both the 2013 and 2018 assembly polls. Kharge was accused of lobbying heavily to have his son made a minister in the then Siddaramiah-led Congress government.

Like Gandhis, Kharge too has been facing corruption charges. In 2014, a Lokayukta complaint was lodged against Kharge alleging that he owned assets worth Rs 50,000 crore which were disproportionate to his known sources of income.

For media, and the initiated ones, the entire election process was a circus. The media reports on Congress elections were full of tropes such as, 'rubber stamp', 'remote control', 'cosmetic change', family in control- that reduced the election process to a mere charade, which in fact it was.

Tharoor presented himself as an agent of change, implying to do away with the Congress's ubiquitous high command culture. Obviously, this was a threat to the dynastic control of the party, which Gandhis didn't want. In contrast octogenarian Kharge can be trusted to be a rubber stamp president, someone who will faithfully carry instructions form the Gandhis. Given his advanced age and track record, there's absolutely no chance of his emerging as a parallel centre of power.

Kharge is a product of a decadent party culture, a kind of an old school Congress leader, who joined Congress in the Indira and Rajiv eras, and whose public life heavily depended on personal favours - given and taken - rather than public service based on policies and mass delivery.

Can Kharge stand up to the challenges that await him in his new role? Can he revive the fighting spirit in the party which is demoralised and in despair? Can he arrest the slide in the party vote share, which appears to be in permanent decline? Has Kharge a strategy in place for the several assembly polls that include the Himachal Pradesh polls, which have already been announced?

The range of insurmountable problems that beleaguered Kharge would have to deal with include intense infighting, massive resource crunch and continued desertions by party leaders and cadres to other parties. The five other large states that go to the polls ahead of the 2024 general election include the only two where Congress is still in government - Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Can Congress hold on to these states, while showing a respectable performance in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana?

When Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose sought his second presidential term at the 1939 Tripuri AICC session, the widening gap between Bose and Mahatma Gandhi's worldview, ideological and organisational outlook was evident. A group of senior leaders urged Bose not to contest but when Bose stayed the course, Maulana Azad withdrew and Sitaramayya was brought to challenge him as Gandhi's candidate. After Bose won and Gandhi declared Sitaramayya's defeat as his own, leading CWC members including Sardar Patel resigned, forcing Bose to quit presidency, and later Congress. A big 'if' of the history is: what would have happened, if Bose had been allowed to complete his term.

Future historians of the party would also have to grapple with the questions: What would have happened if Tharoor was given a chance to lead the Party? How would have Gandhis reacted to the loss of control over Congress? Over 1000 votes polled by Tharoor represent a keen desire for a change that didn't take place.

(Mr. Balbir Punj is a Former Member of Parliament and a Columnist. He can be reached at: punjbalbir@gmail.com)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of OneIndia and OneIndia does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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