Train journeys conjure up romanticism. They also give an ‘aam aadmi’ feel. Even for a party that decides to hold a three-day camp at a plush five-star hotel in Udaipur. But when the Congress decided that Rahul Gandhi should travel there by Chetak Express, the reason was to ensure that the people got a feel of their leader. It was also to blunt the entitled image that the Gandhis are often associated with. So a curt message was sent to party workers to come to Delhi railways station to “give a warm farewell to their dear neta”.
Across the journey, pictures were released of crowds gathering at railway stations to meet Rahul Gandhi and he obliged.
The buildup is clear. At the chintan shivir (brainstorming camp) which is to focus on the need for change, as well as the strategy for 2024 and urgent reforms needed, the focus is likely to shift to the demand for Rahul Gandhi to become president of the party.
Leadership is the core problem confronting the Congress today. While Sonia remains the interim president, it’s clear she is reluctant to continue for long. Rahul Gandhi may just be an MP but calls the shots. Decisions are taken by him and leaders are expected to go to him for advice.
And poll strategist Prashant Kishor had in his PowerPoint presentation to the Gandhis made the observation that there has to be clarity on who the leader is. A situation where both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi call the shots doesn’t work and makes it confusing for the party workers.
But the shivir, despite not wanting to officially focus on the issue of Rahul Gandhi as president, is working towards that.
The group of 23 dissenters (or G23) is uppermost in the mind of Sonia Gandhi. Some like Kapil Sibal have been open about the fact that a non-Gandhi should be the party president.
Sonia is aware of the unsaid words of many others. This is why she made it clear at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting that it was time for party colleagues to pay back what they had got from the party. Both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi have made the point that public comments against the party were unacceptable.
The shivir is also packed with Rahul Gandhi’s loyalists who will ensure that the demand for presidentship is made and accepted. In fact, those chosen to travel with him by train were also carefully picked. Like Bhupesh Baghel and Manickam Tagore.
At the last meeting when Rahul Gandhi was made vice president in Jaipur, he had called power “poison”. He is back in the same desert state many years later. And his loyalists may force him to swallow the poison once again.