Anatomy of a revolt: Tracking the voices of discontent within Congress

03:25 PM Jul 13, 2020 | Nirmalya Dutta
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History is replete with events where we can pinpoint the exact date that sparked a trigger. Historians agree that it was the First War of Independence in 1857 that became a movement for Indians to get their freedom from Colonial rule.

The First World War was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

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The Second World War started when Hitler occupied Poland. The War on Terror started on September 11, 2001, when a plane flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre.

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Cong's latest inner turmoil appears to be triggered by the departure of Jyotiraditya Scindia on March 10, when Rahul's closest aide turned his back on the Congress. For some time, he was talked up as the future of the party along with Sachin Pilot but it appeared Scindia was tired of waiting for dawn to emerge.

That Scindia would join BJP, despite being so close to Rahul Gandhi that he could practically walk into the former Congress President’s house represents the deep inertia that had set into the grand old party which has the energy of a snail returning home from a funeral on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

On Monday, Congress managed to quell a second blow even as Sachin Pilot's rebellion was quelled, for now. Pilot's desire to form a new party – called the Pragatisheel Congress – which reportedly will get some support from BJP in Rajasthan, appears to have hit the roadblock for now.

It’s not an easy task, given that Pilot will have to register a new party, with a new symbol and all his MLAs will have to undergo re-election.

The show of strength at Gehlot’s residence suggests that this might have been a case of premature evacuation by Pilot, a problem not uncommon for Indians on flights.

Yet, there's no denying that there's some sort of a revolt at hand.

Sanjay Jha appears to have become a bard-of-sorts of the rebellion, as an article he wrote on June 7, 2020 appearing like a document which reads like the declaration of intent against the current Congress high command.

Pilot’s definitely not flying solo if Sanjay Jha’s tweets are anything to go by.

A little over a week after Sanjay Jha’s article, Congress watcher and journalist Rasheed Kidwai wrote an article on June 16, 2020, claiming that Jha’s red-flag of rebellion was backed by several top leaders including a three-time Kerala Congress MP, a Delhi-based lawyer, and several young leaders who are annoyed with the sway old-timers like KC Venugopal, Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ashok Gehlot have in the party. Gehlot is of course Sachin Pilot’s bete noire.

Using basic skills of deduction, one would wonder if the three-time Congress MP wasn’t a former UN diplomat known for setting stands on fire at literature festivals, whilst the Delhi-based lawyer wasn’t one of the SC’s most prolific advocates.

Since the first article, Mr Jha has been on what can only be called the Sanjay Jha Revival Tour where he has been going from channel to channel sending the same message of a need for change.

The man who faced fusillade after fusillade during the India Against Corruption on the party’s behalf was understandably disappointed after being dropped unceremoniously. He noted that he had defended the party for seven years and yet was dropped without a ‘line of gratitude’.

In one piece, he compared the BJP’s election-winning machinery to NBA GOAT LeBron James while calling the Congress a party of ‘dilly-dallying dilettantti’.

In another, he mocked Rahul Gandhi’ coterie, stating they couldn’t’ differentiate between Muzaffarpur and Muzaffarnagar, and leaders ought to have a fan club, not a fawn club.

In an interview with Barkha Dutt, he compared the Gandhis to Tendulkar, urging them to relinquish the captaincy in favour of Sachin Pilot who could be the next Dhoni/Ganguly.

Jha’s not the only one urging the Congress to change.

On July 5, 2020, Harish Khare who was Manmohan Singh’s media advisor from 2009 to 2012, wrote after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was evicted from her bungalow that the Gandhis shouldn’t just leave Lutyens but Congress as well.

In a strongly-worded piece in The Wire, Harish Khare wrote: “And there seems to be no way out of the family cul de sac. Even after two inglorious defeats at the national level, the Gandhis continue to behave like limpets, to use that sneering expression Rajiv Gandhi’s abuser-in-chief, Mani Shanker Aiyar, had once cockily used for the Opposition leaders. And, in the process, the Gandhis have prevented the Congress from undertaking the basic task, a sine qua non for any party in a healthy parliamentary system, of an honest understanding and analysis of reasons for two comprehensive defeats.”

More interestingly, several Congress leaders are jumping into the fray.

Delhi-based lawyer and former Union Minister Kapil Sibal wrote: “Worried for our party. Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables?”

That he chose not to present it as a limerick or poem shows the seriousness of intent.

PC Chidambaram’s son Karti, a first-time MP, also wrote: “Why is @Google a successful company? Because it lets talent to become entrepreneurial within the organisation. Lessons to be learnt here.”

Shashi Tharoor has always maintained that the Gandhis were the most popular leaders amongst the party and who had once said: “The reality is that no one will win a fair election against the current president of the party, he has the workers’ support.”

However, on July 12, he also seemed to suggest winds of change were approaching when he wrote on Twitter: “I passionately believe that our country needs a genuinely liberal party headed by centrist professionals committed to inclusive politics and respectful of India’s pluralism. All who believe in the founding values of the Republic must work to strengthen @INCIndia not undermine it.”

While Tharoor’s tweets – even when it doesn’t contain highfalutin words – are often hard to decipher, by no stretch of imagination can one call the Gandhis ‘centrist professionals’, given their lack of occupational history and recent Left-ward turn which has seen the party always be on the wrong side of popular opinion.

Pilot’s attempt to float an alternative in Rajasthan appears to have hit a roadblock for now and history will note that Sachin Pilot’s father Rajesh was part of a group of leaders who tried to mount a revolt that flittered away.

Rasheed Kidwai had written in 2000, after his unfortunate demise in a car crash: “Forever a rebel, Pilot was known for his outspokenness and candid views. Having opposed former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and former party chief Sitaram Kesri, Pilot was planning to take on Sonia in the ensuing organisational polls.”

Pilot will learn that it's not easy to float a party and sustain it.

Only, Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee and more recently YS Jaganmohan Reddy have managed to build Congress splinter parties which have stood the test of time.

Pranab Mukherjee’s Rasthriya Samajwadi Party lasted for three years before merging with INC.

P Chidambaram was part of the Tamil Maanila Congress and later the Congress Jananayaka Peravai but he eventually returned to the Congress fold.

GK Moonapar also went with his mentor Kamaraj’s Congress (Organisation) and Tamil Maanila Congress but eventually returned the fold.

Last year, Shehzad Poonawalla tried one which barely made any headway. But perhaps, with Tharoor, Kapil Sibal, Sachin Pilot and other leaders with political and bureaucratic clout on board, a rebellion might be in the offing.

As of now, the Pilot failed to land, but this is not the end of the story. There’s a storm brewing.

Nirmalya Dutta is the Web Editor of The Free Press Journal. The views expressed are personal.

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