The abject performance in the Bihar assembly elections has prompted another round of soul searching by some Congress leaders, but the dominant instinct appears to be to silence them. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, the most powerful of Rahul Gandhi’s internal backers in the party, has taken exception to Kapil Sibal’s warning that Congress is in decline. Sibal has also secured some support for his views, but these are not the mass leaders who carry heft in the party.
RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari’s criticism of Rahul Gandhi’s failure to lead Congress’s Bihar campaign from the front has stung the party, just as it was trying to put a brave face over Barack Obama’s unfavourable appraisal of Rahul’s persona. Rahul had earlier led an onslaught against 23 leaders who wrote a letter to Sonia over the party’s failure to appoint a full-time president, rueing their insensitivity to her fragile health.
Such a defence of the Congres president puts the onus on Rahul to lead the Bihar campaign though he holds no official position in the party. Congress has set in motion the process to appoint a new president, but Rahul’s indifferent showing and inability to be a 24×7 politician in perpetual campaign mode like Narendra Modi and Amit Shah worries many party apparatchiks. Moreover, Rahul’s presence in the fray prevents others from throwing their hat into the ring. Trapped between a lacklustre dynasty and timid, unambitious netas, Congress’s decline shows no sign of reversing.