The G-23 leaders of the Congress Party are persisting in their efforts for reform. This became even more evident during their recent meeting in Jammu. Veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad is increasingly becoming the face of this protest. While they are asking for in-party democracy, it is being seen by most as a demand to end the primacy of the Nehru-Gandhi parivar, thereby rapidly splitting the party down the middle. This is exemplified by the conciliatory approach adopted by Azad when he was Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and the contrasting belligerence of Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in the Lok Sabha. Azad expresses admiration for ‘grounded’ BJP leaders like Narendra Modi and Atal Behari Vajpayee in the old school style of politics, while Chowdhury is furthering the Rahul Gandhi confrontational approach, irrespective of cause or occasion.
Supporters of the Parivar claim that the senior leaders are out of date and frustrated at being sidelined within the party. They would be easily appeased if there were enough Rajya Sabha seats and such like sops available. On the other hand, the protestors argue that there are real reasons for the party’s decline which need to be addressed – Modi and the BJP cannot be blamed for taking advantage. Azad, for instance, is today the seniormost Congress leader, given that he served in the times of Indira Gandhi, but has always been fobbed of with a Party General Secretary’s post, never becoming the President. There is a long history of tall leaders being sidelined merely because their rise to power would threaten Sonia Gandhi and her offspring. Narasimha Rao’s prime ministerial stint was an example of this and Manmohan Singh’s servility was a result of it. ND Tiwari, Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee are just a few of the then upcoming leaders who were denied their due within the party.
The Congress was a national movement at the time of Independence. It then began to split till it eventually became a family firm. As long as there was capable and charismatic leadership such as Indira Gandhi, as well as a functioning cadre in the states, it managed to rule. However, with the emergence of a viable opposition, it has been greatly marginalised. Rahul Gandhi is acting on the assumption that Congress is the nation’s default setting, no matter how much he messes up. The senior leaders believe, however, that politics requires hard work, particularly in the age of 24X7 Modi.