A day after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic denunciation of the ordinance on convicted legislators, the expectation in the party was that it would be withdrawn at the first Cabinet meeting to be held after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from abroad.
If that happens, it will be read as a victory for Mr Gandhi, a senior functionary said, stressing “it might embolden him to make more such interventions.” It could also set the stage, party sources said, for fast-forwarding the generational change in the Congress, provided Mr Gandhi — unlike on many occasions in the past — maintains the momentum, leading from the front.
The Prime Minister, on his part, Congress sources said, “may be angry” at the way his government was censured publicly by Mr Gandhi, but “he is unlikely to make an issue of this” because of the nature of the subject. “It is not an issue,” a Congress leader said, “on which he would like to put in his papers, however upset he might be at the way he has been undermined; indeed, most people in the party feel his heart was not in it [the ordinance] but he went along with it as it was projected as something that would help the Congress in next year’s general election if the party tied up with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD.”
Mr. Yadav, government sources say, may be convicted on September 30 when a CBI court trying him in the fodder scam case in Ranchi pronounces its judgment.
Meanwhile, the responses that came on Saturday from within the party are broadly indicative of a divide within the Congress, not necessarily on the content of the ordinance but on the challenge to the old guard. While many more among the younger members came forward to openly express their support for Mr. Gandhi’s views, a majority of senior Cabinet Ministers, especially those who had been fielded to defend the ordinance earlier this week, maintained a strategic silence.
So if Minister of State Milind Deora and the party’s Chief Whip Sandeep Dikshit had opposed the ordinance before Mr. Gandhi spoke out, they were now joined by Union Minister for Shipping G.K. Vasan, MoS (with independent charge) for Power Jyotiraditya Scindia and MoS for HRD Shashi Tharoor in expressing support for Mr. Gandhi’s remarks.
Among the old guard, apart from general secretary Digvijaya Singh and senior leader Anil Shastri, who had anticipated Mr. Gandhi, Union Petroleum Minister M. Veerappa Moily backed Mr Gandhi. It is learnt Mr. Moily opposed the ordinance in the Cabinet, too.
Indeed, Mr. Gandhi’s outburst is now being framed by party managers as “the young and idealistic” versus “the old and cynical” in the hope that it will help the Congress regain the political space it has conceded to the Opposition, as well as those who hope to benefit from what is being described as the “protest vote.” Even, it appears, if that entails making Dr. Singh look like a “lame-duck” Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi — who was party to the decision on the ordinance — a figment of the past.
Senior party sources said the Congress leadership had drawn up a road map for a gradual transformation of the party, with Mr. Gandhi moving up slowly. But the party vice-president’s declaration of independence on Friday might force the leadership to make the generational shift apparent more quickly — unless it is a flash in the pan.
Structurally, however, the sources said, the scope for change is limited but Mr. Gandhi may be consulted more closely on policy matters. He could be invited to be part of the Congress Core Group so that henceforth he would have to take responsibility for key decisions.
In January, when he became vice-president, it was expected that Mr. Gandhi would become a member of the Core Group but he did not, possibly because, party sources said, he could always detach himself from its decisions. However, this duality — of being party number two and heir apparent and yet not taking responsibility for key decisions — may not be a viable strategy any longer.