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Tradition of coterie in Congress dates back to Indira's time


New Delhi: The Congress has been run by a coterie in the past and Sonia Gandhi is only following the culture introduced by her late mother-in-law and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

During Indira Gandhi's tenure, bureaucrat P.N. Haksar was the all-powerful man leading a team of advisers.

Then came Rajiv Gandhi, who took charge of the party after his mother and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984.

A commercial pilot who was suddenly flung into the key role in politics amid a difficult situation, Rajiv Gandhi became dependent on Arun Singh and his cousin Arun Nehru, who constituted a coterie and controlled everything, before falling out with the party chief.

After Rajiv Gandhi's assassination on May 21,1991, the party's reins went out of the Nehru-Gandhi family's hold to P.V. Narasimha Rao. As he increased his grip on the party, leaders like G.K. Moopanar, Madhav Rao Scindia, N.D. Tiwari and Arjun Singh left the Congress to form new regional outfits.

For about two years from 1996, Sitaram Kesri became the President of the Congress before Sonia Gandhi took over, marking return of control of the party to the Gandhi family.

During the initial period of Sonia Gandhi's presidentship, V. George, as adviser, was the most powerful person. However, he was forced into shadows after his name figured in some cases and Ahmed Patel stepped in.

Sonia Gandhi then appointed two political secretaries -- Ahmed Patel and Ambika Soni. But amidst a turf war, Soni was made party General Secretary and later Minister in the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh. Her clout later faded away, although she continues to be General Secretary In-Charge of Jammu Kashmir.

Sonia Gandhi also had a set of advisers, with late Arjun Singh, Makhan Lal Fotedar and Natwar Singh being the principal advisers. However, Ahmed Patel, along with Janardan Dwivedi and Moti Lal Vora, gained clout and became Sonia Gandhi's closest confidantes.

However, the coterie rule and turf war at this stage, when the Congress is struggling to remain afloat in the face of a resurgent BJP, are creating major challenges internally to the party.

In the last two successive Lok Sabha elections, the Congress party has performed dismally, bagging only 44 and 52 seats, respectively, out of 543 seats at stake. Besides, it has lost power in most of the states and its governments are now confined to Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Pudducherry.

Against this background, there have been desertions in the party, including mass exodus in some states, dipping its fortunes further.

Amidst these developments, Rahul Gandhi quit as Congress President after which the reins were handed over back to his mother Sonia Gandhi on August 10.

The idea was that she would be rejuvenate the party by enthusing the demoralized cadres and ending turf wars.

However, with Sonia Gandhi back at the helm as Interim President, the coterie is also back, with Ahmed Patel and Moti Lal Vora dictating terms as far as policies of the party are concerned.

"The power tussle is not new in Congress but time has changed," said a party leader on condition of anonymity.

He said while BJP has a charismatic leader like Narendra Modi, the Congress is still embroiled in symbolism and is unable to build an alternate narrative.

"You can run a party through coterie when you are in power but not when you are in weak position," the Congress leader said, while reflecting upon the sad state of affairs in the party.


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