The Congress has to now deal with its old coterie and be decisive about leadership issues
The Congress celebrations, now that everybody has labelled the Assembly results as the nose-in-the-ground anointment of its new chief Rahul Gandhi, need to simmer down and its top brass should get working on the troublesome issue of State leadership at hand. Should the party go with the old guard or prop up the new, if only to demonstrate that Rahul Gandhi is indeed capable of bringing the vigour of youth instead of relying on handed down logic? Besides, Gandhi has to dispel the myth that he would still love to be cushioned in princeling comforts and not be overshadowed by talented challengers. If he has to send out a message of a new-found sense of purpose and appeal to the younger demographic of voters, then he indeed has to accommodate his young leadership and peers in power positions. A clearer verdict would have no doubt given him the muscle but now that the Congress has slender margins of victory, it cannot afford to alienate the older and more importantly, the loyal watchguards of the organisation. Dissenters in the Congress are notorious for harming the party and in the two States could even shop in Opposition camps. Unlike the monolithic grassroots matrix of the BJP, the Congress votebank is harvested in pocket borough style by regional leaders. At this point, when the party needs to work on its organisational depth for 2019, it could hardly afford to crank up the senior leaders. In Rajasthan, a young Sachin Pilot worked the ground but was tasked with the superhuman feat of pulling up seat strength from 21 to 100 plus. And though he staked his strengths, he has yet to reach the over-arching and harmonising capabilities of the seniority and experience of an Ashok Gehlot. The Congress does need his expertise to keep the flock together. Though the two leaders chose to brief the press from their residence, it was the senior Gehlot who was pragmatic enough to call on his junior for the right optics.
In Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress is tipping on needle point, and where Jyotiraditya Scindia is an equal claimant to leadership, the experience of the old guard has to be banked upon. A strategist like Kamal Nath was needed to begin talks with post poll allies like Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party, Gondwana Gantantra Party and independents. The party needs 116 to form the Government. For Mayawati, it is a shot at relevance as she has realised that a pre-poll partnership would have worked far more for mutual benefit and that tricky territory needs delicacy and soft-treading of ego issues which the senior leaders are expectedly more adept at. One doesn’t deny the imperatives but do the old warhorses have the maturity to be the margdarshak and give up the hot seat instead? The Congress has to deal with its coterie clout and seem to be decisive about leadership issues, give credence to the bottom-up approach rather than the one handed down by the high command.