More party leaders came out on Friday with oblique and direct criticism of his style of functioning and politics, but Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was not in a mood to relent. Sources familiar with Mr. Gandhi’s approach told The Hindu that “democratisation of the party, which is meant to free the party from the clutches of power brokers must continue.”
In a clear public expression of this emergent thought, Youth Congress president Rajiv Satav — a confidant of Mr. Gandhi and one of the two Congress members elected to the Lok Sabha from Maharashtra — strongly rebutted the broadside against the party’s vice-president by Milind Deora, who lost the elections from South Mumbai. “Milind Deora should have spoken earlier,” Mr. Satav said. “Mr. Deora gets votes from the poor and represents the interests of the rich. They are the ones threatened by Mr. Gandhi’s attempts to open up the party,” another functionary who did not want to be named, said.
On Friday, Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor said open expression of opinion had not been allowed in the party, while Gujarat Leader of the Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela said that Mr. Gandhi had “no connect with the people.” A party leader close to Mr. Gandhi countered, saying it was only because of Mr. Gandhi’s “intensive outreach and connect with the people that the disconnect of the UPA government and the local leaders” was made up at least partially.
Privately, there is a very strong sentiment that Congress president Sonia Gandhi must take charge, and that Mr. Gandhi’s “experiments” must end. There are voices, too, suggesting that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra should be given a larger role in the party.
Those close to Mr. Gandhi, while not coming out in the open, wanted to know why they were being targeted — they were, after all, only part of his team. Others in the team claimed that they were “able to stop the downslide of the Congress” and they “helped restore the image of the UPA and the Congress, even going so far as to say that the damage could have been far worse had he not taken charge of the campaign in January.
Within the party, internecine warfare has broken out in state units. On Friday, Amritsar MP Amarinder Singh attacked Punjab unit chief Partap Singh Bajwa after he took disciplinary action against MLAs and party leaders who had demanded his resignation for the party’s poor show in the State. A day after the Congress president refused to accept Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s resignation, rebellion that had been simmering in the State unit erupted in the open.
Congress allies such as the Nationalist Congress Party, too, are now publicly criticising the party for the UPA’s decimation. “The poll debacle is Congress’s responsibility. There was no proper communication,” NCP leader Praful Patel told journalists.
The demand for surgical changes comes in the wake of senior party leader Kamal Nath speaking of the need for elections to the CWC a few days ago, followed by another veteran M. Veerappa Moily repeating the suggestion in an interview. On Mr. Gandhi’s primaries’ experiment, he said those who surrounded the latter “should only be the aides; main players should be political faces. We should think and act politically”.