While Rahul Gandhi is still to make up his mind as to whether he will be Congress chief sooner rather than later, there are some indications that he is at least putting a team in place. First, it was the reach out to Sachin Pilot to ensure that he stays back within the party; this was handled solely by Rahul’s team, whether it was the initial reach out by Jitin Prasada and the negotiations later on, carried out by Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. The Old Guard, in the form of Ahmed Patel, was only called in once the details were worked out, for a photo-op. Then came the composition of the threemember committee that has been set up to look into the Sachin Pilot Vs Ashok Gehlot face off in Rajasthan. The three-members consist of Ahmed Patel, K.C. Venugopal and Ajay Maken. Both Maken and Venugopal are key members of Team Rahul and in fact Makhan was given a new job title just so he could be on the committee as he replaced Avinash Pandey as the general secretary incharge of Rajasthan. Expect more such tinkering to happen at the party headquarters as more members of Team Rahul begin to replace the older lot. Given that Rahul himself just turned fifty, I would not call this the Battle of the Old Guard vs Young Turks, but more a battle of the Old vs The Middle Aged.
While most concede that the post of the Congress president comes with an Employment Guarantee Scheme in the name of the Gandhis, there is hope that at least elections will be held for the Congress Working Committee. Already Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, Salman Khurshid and some others have asked for this. It would also be interesting to note that while most of the Gen-Next welcomed Sachin’s decision to stay back, there is a growing note of concern over party positions being handed on a platter to a favoured few. A few days before Project Pilot got off the ground and Sachin called off his rebellion, national spokesperson Manish Tewari gave me an interview for NewsX where he referred to both Sachin and Jyotiraditya Scindia as “Princes of Privilege”. He pointed out that while most worked their way up from the grassroots and the party’s frontal organisations (Manish himself is a former president of the Indian Youth Congress), there were those who made lateral entries and were given plum party posts; but the moment the party was in trouble, they were quick to jump ship. He named Priyanka Chaturvedi, Ajoy Kumar, amongst others. Manish does have a point and this is one thing that Rahul would have to watch out for as he formulates a new team. For one thing is clear, up until now Rahul hasn’t shown that he can pick his people well. Look at those he has favoured so far — first, there was the Class of 2004 that debuted along with him, this included Jitin Prasada, Sachin, Milind Deora, Sandeep Dikshit and Ajay Maken. Apart from Jitin who is now trying to float a Brahmin front in Uttar Pradesh to woo back this vote-bank to the party, the others have not made a mark in grassroots politics. From the older lot, Rahul favoured the itinerant Jairam Ramesh, the confused Madhusudan Mistry, Beni Prasad Varma and Mohan Prakash. Most of these are outsiders who made a lateral entry and not homegrown talent. In fact those who have come up from the grassroots include Digvijaya Singh, Ashok Gehlot and Ghulam Nabi Azad, but these three are not permanent fixtures in Team Rahul. The rest, whether it is K.V. Venugopal, Jitender Bhanwar, Manickam Tagore or Meenakshi Natrajan, are more in the nature of being executors rather than having an advisory role. For the latter, Rahul draws on his team at Tughlaq Lane, but this team is not sourced from the party. Rather, it comprises professionals who are good at reading data and crafting social media campaigns, but their hold over grassroots politics still has to be proved. So not only does Rahul need to find his version of Ahmed Patel, he also needs to find his own core team that also has credibility with the rest of the party.