Wake up and smell the coffee

Azad’s words may be faulted for their harshness and for the hyperbole. But there is no taking away from the fact that he was pushed, by a combination of inaction and arrogance, to go so far.
Rahul Gandhi
Rahul GandhiReuters

It is difficult to say which will draw more attention – the resignation or the savage attack on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Either way, the exit of Ghulam Nabi Azad – a man who has occupied senior positions in the Congress, which he served for five decades – is another loss for a party that appears to have no sense of direction. As one of the leading lights of the G-23, Azad’s unhappiness with the state of affairs in the party – its indecision to elect a President and the continued reliance on sycophants – was well known. What was unanticipated is that this generally soft-spoken man would go down with all guns blazing – squarely blaming the sorry state of affairs on Rahul Gandhi, who he described as a “non-serious individual” that lets personal assistants and security guards take decisions for him.

Azad’s words may be faulted for their harshness and for the hyperbole. But there is no taking away from the fact that he was pushed, by a combination of inaction and arrogance, to go so far. There is also another factor that he has squarely drawn attention to – Rahul Gandhi is arguably unfit to lead the party at this juncture. While he attacked Rahul, Sonia Gandhi came in for praise – a dichotomy that clearly indicated that his problem lay with personality rather than dynasty. The problem, he suggested, lay in the fact that Rahul continued to manage the party by remote, even though he is no more than a national figurehead.

What Azad drew attention to is known to everyone – even to Jairam Ramesh who was commandeered to attack the former and rush to the defence of the Congress’ first family. But the Congress’ problems are not going to vanish if it acts as if the desertions don’t matter and that there is no disaffection in the party. Azad is the fourth Congressman to leave in recent times, the others being Jitin Prasada, Kapil Sibal and Yoganand Shastri. However, none of them launched such a broadside when they left the party.

How many more will leave before the Congress wakes up and smells the coffee? While this is not clear, Sonia Gandhi has asked Ashok Gehlot to take over as president. On paper, he is not a bad choice, having won more than one state election and having a good measure of both political savvy and administrative experience. The big question is whether he will have the freedom to function as Congress president, free from pressures of the Gandhi family and their rabble of sycophants. Gehlot himself seemed aware that he was being asked to wear a crown of thorns, by gently suggesting that Rahul Gandhi was more suited to the job. While this is debatable, one thing is clear. If he doesn’t want the job, which is there for the taking, he should also take his hand off the remote. It is time the Congress made it clear that Rahul Gandhi cannot have it both ways.

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