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Rahul Gandhi vacuum tells on Maharashtra elections

Leaders and candidates complain about ‘disconnect’ of the high command

By Sanjay K. Jha in New Delhi

  • Published 10.10.19, 5:09 AM
  • Updated 10.10.19, 5:09 AM
Some leaders say in private conversations that Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are still welcome to campaign but not Rahul
Some leaders say in private conversations that Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are still welcome to campaign but not Rahul (AP)

A measure of how Rahul Gandhi’s inexplicable decision to disinvest in his own leadership has incapacitated the Congress is vividly manifested in the upcoming Maharashtra Assembly elections where leaders and candidates are complaining about the “disconnect” of the high command.

While many Congress candidates complain that they have been left to fend for themselves against the colossal might of the BJP, some of them argue that they can do without the “disturbance” of the central leadership that has discredited itself. Some leaders say in private conversations that Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are still welcome to campaign but not Rahul.

A candidate from the Vidarbha region told The Telegraph over phone: “The demoralisation among Congress workers is immeasurable. They don’t have the heart to fight. And Rahul is primarily responsible for this miserable plight. Sonia is still seen as a brave saviour by party workers but they see Rahul as an irresponsible leader who dumped the party in its weakest hour.”

The candidate added: “I can’t formally convey to the high command that I don’t want Rahul to campaign for me. People here say Rahul is like a son who deserted his old, ailing mother. The Congress needed him the most after the parliamentary elections earlier this year which snuffed the entire energy and hope out of our organisation. He was the undisputed leader and every worker had faith in him. Some entrenched leaders with vested interests might have betrayed him but the workers wanted him to lead.”

A senior leader admitted that the workers were in deep anguish about Rahul’s absence. “Imagine what would have happened had Sonia and Priyanka not intervened to arrest the slide. We have seen a huge exodus of senior leaders from the Congress in our state. But for Sonia’s readiness to stabilise the ship, the party would have disintegrated. That pained the workers even as they are still waiting for Rahul to realise his mistake and take the reins again,” he said.

This feeling is so pervasive in the Congress that senior leader and former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid spoke about it on record. “We haven’t really got together to analyse why we got defeated. Our biggest problem is our leader has walked away,” Khurshid told a news agency. “It has kind of left a vacuum. Sonia Gandhi stepped in, but there is more than an indication that she is treating herself as a stop-gap arrangement. I wish it wasn’t so.”

Regretting that Rahul quit despite “our earnest pleading”, Khurshid said: “He is not the president now but still he is the main leader of our party. This is perhaps the only time in history that a major defeat has not caused the party to lose confidence in their leader. If he had stayed and was around, we would have understood better the causes of our defeat and be better prepared to fight the battles in coming times.”

Most candidates in Maharashtra feel the disarray in the party — which has encouraged many senior leaders to defect to the BJP — was mainly because of lack of direction and the confusion caused by the leadership vacuum.

They insist the ground reality in the state is not at all favourable for the BJP but the disorganised Congress high command had failed to counter their propaganda of invincibility. “Our communication is almost nil; the media predicts a clean sweep for the BJP and everybody listens. Where is the counter-narrative?” a leader asked.

The Congress, however, denied any laxity or deficiency in preparations for the Maharashtra and Haryana polls. Responding to questions on Khurshid’s remarks, spokesperson Pawan Khera said: “We are fighting these elections with full strength. We advise every Congress leader to use their energies in exposing the BJP government.”

Khera asserted that both Sonia and Rahul would campaign in these elections.

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