Why August 10 is a more important day for Congressmen than August 5

Interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi is out of hospital and Rahul Gandhi has directed the party’s media spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala to tell squabbling colleagues to stop it. But there’s no direct word from the top leadership about putting an end to the war of words in the Congress that continues to rage over why the party is where it is and who should be held accountable.

The current battle is seen as stage-setting for August 10, when Sonia Gandhi completes one year of interim presidentship and questions are raised about the leadership vacuum. Those with proximity to Rahul Gandhi are hoping he will change his mind and assume presidentship of the party – which means their position in the Congress apparatus will be secure.

The issue erupted last week at a meeting of Rajya Sabha MPs called by Sonia Gandhi. A routine review meeting saw her in the vortex of a heated debate that touched policy issues as well as personalities.

And it shows no sign of ending.

At this meeting, several MPs, including Rajiv Sattav and KC Venugopal thought to be loyal to Rahul Gandhi held the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) years responsible for the decline in the Congress’s fortunes. By implication, this meant criticism of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government and its policies.

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Several leaders came out in public to say that while they respected Singh, they had a view that needed to be taken into account. Sushmita Dev, chief of the women’s wing of the Congress, the Mahila Congress said the Congress was a democracy and leaders had a right to say what they wanted in internal fora.

The other side reacted instantly. Manish Tewari said: ‘BJP was out of office for ten years from 2004 to 2014. Not once did they blame Vajpayee or his government for their predicament then. In the Congress, unfortunately, some ill informed persons would rather take swipes at the Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA government than fight the NDA/BJP. When unity is required they divide”. Milind Deora, a junior minister in the UPA, said: “when demitting office in 2014, Dr Manmohan Singh said: ‘history will be kinder to me’. Could he ever have imagined that some from his own party would dismiss his years of service to the nation and seek to destroy his legacy, that too, in his presence?”

Chief ministers of the party, who hold the real power, are keeping absolutely quiet. Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh), Amrinder Singh (Punjab) and Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan) have stayed out of the whole controversy.

The debate inside the party is not just on its current predicament, it is also on who the primary enemy of the party is. Several leaders have advised Rahul Gandhi that equivalence with Narendra Modi is a mistake as Modi’s popularity is at its peak. Instead the Congress should find blind spots within the BJP and the NDA government – there are plenty – and focus on those. These leaders include RPN Singh, Jairam Ramesh and others. However, there is no evidence that Gandhi is taking this advice.

10 August will bring some clarity on the leadership muddle in the party. Till then, Congressmen want to be seen and heard.

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