MP Shashi Tharoor has reportedly obtained ‘clearance’ from interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi to contest for the President’s post in the coming party elections. This is being seen as Sonia Gandhi’s intention to remain ‘neutral’. The other contender is said to be Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, who is believed to have the support of the Gandhis, mostly because he poses absolutely no threat to them. Gehlot’s problem is stated to be his reluctance to give up a substantial position like that of Chief Minister for that of a largely puppet party president. It is unlikely he will be allowed to retain both, certainly not with Sachin Pilot snapping at his heels.
The party cadre, what remains of it, is strongly in favour of Rahul Gandhi as President. Rahul is reluctant to take the job, obviously because he does not wish to preside over and be held responsible for even more of the party’s electoral defeats. His long held belief is that the Congress is the nation’s ‘default’ option and when the ruling BJP inevitably declines, the people will opt for his party, which would be a good time to stake his claim. He has age on his side, so can afford to wait.
However, if the pretence of democratisation is followed through at the present by the Congress and elections are held, there may be trouble if someone like Tharoor becomes president. A Gehlot or someone of his ilk would be happy to remain a proxy for the Gandhi family, but Tharoor is too intelligent to be able to perform that function. With or without the Gandhis’ support, he is likely to tow his own line and introduce practices that would transform the party into a more representative entity. The day the cadre realises that it can not only do without the Gandhis, but also become stronger by promoting grassroots leaders, it will cast away the shackles of feudal loyalty. So, no matter how much Sonia Gandhi may project herself to be neutral, she knows where the danger lies. The sidelining of the many leaders that has taken place over the years for Rahul Gandhi’s sake was not done so that some aspiring Tharoor could take over the reins. No matter how amiable the process may seem at the surface, the daggers will have been drawn for Tharoor. His ouster would be good news for the BJP, as there is nothing it wants more than Rahul Gandhi to lead the Congress into further debacles.