congress old guard

File photo of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi arriving at the Congress party headquarters to attend the Congress working committee meeting on May 25 to review the party’s election performance, in New Delhi, India. (Atul Loke/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — It was a golden opportunity to finally bid adieu to the dynasty tag, bring in new blood and re-energize the rank and file, but the Congress party’s loyalist old guard won the day. And it is not for want of trying by Rahul Gandhi, who refused to buckle, and stuck to his resignation.

The over 12-hour-long deliberations Aug. 10 gave Congress supporters hope that a new face would emerge. The party has quite a few Young Turks who are intelligent, capable, work very hard and have good communication skills, which are needed to match the political onslaught of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Mukul Wasnik, Sachin Pilot, Mallikarjun Kharge have the potential and are dedicated.

However, the Old Guard, among them Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad, who are close to Sonia Gandhi, convinced her to return as interim president, despite her failing health.

The very fact that five region-wise subgroups were formed after the morning Congress Working Committee meeting, to deliberate on the name of a possible leader, was indicative of Rahul Gandhi's determination to shake off the dynasty tag from the Grand Old Party.

But even there, the loyalists prevailed.

The enthusiasm that had suffused the party in the morning, wilted by evening, and those who were keen to see change found themselves outmaneuvered, and outnumbered by the loyalist gang.

Before the second Congress Working Committee began at 8:30 p.m., the chorus of "Rahul Gandhi" by the subgroups had begun, and the inevitable was staring the party in the face.

To do justice to Rahul, who has matured in the past few years as a leader, he refused to buckle to the demands of the Old Guard. The CWC, which is full of loyalists who are mostly over 75 and are fiercely protective about their privileges within the party, had appealed to him to take back his resignation once again that morning during the CWC.

They had refused to accept Rahul's resignation which he tendered in May, right after the party's poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections. Rahul Gandhi has been trying to infuse new blood and thinking into the party, but the Old Guard would have none of it.

Rahul Gandhi reached the venue of the evening CWC an hour late. By then, he knew which way it was heading. It was when the Old Guard realized that Gandhi scion would not succumb to the chorus of "Rahul Gandhi again,” that they decided to accept his resignation.

With most of them having Sonia Gandhi's ear, it was not difficult for them to convince her to take charge again, telling her that the party would collapse without her leadership.

The stranglehold of the loyalists can be gauged from the fact that they sat over Rahul Gandhi's resignation for over two months, and made repeated pleas to him to take it back.

They did not want to accept his different line of thinking. Their behavior was akin to when elders are indulgent to the ‘whims' of the young, thinking it is a passing fancy. Rahul Gandhi's plans of strengthening the Youth Congress and holding open elections at every level, have also been scuppered by the Old Guard, which is determined not to let go of their tight hold and say in every party matter.

It was no surprise that they won the day again. It is to be seen how Sonia Gandhi, who now lacks the energy that she had as party chief, will manage the affairs of the party, and whether she will be able to respect the wishes of her son to get a non-Gandhi to lead the Congress.

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