Is the Congress’ old guard preparing a mass revolt against Rahul Gandhi? Disappointed with the Congress vice-president’s “handling of organisational matters”, a section in the party is said to have started preliminary discussions about the possibility of forming of a party of their own without the Nehru-Gandhi family at the helm.

Although no concrete move has been made in this direction, leaders in some states have been meeting informally to weigh their options. While the obvious choice is to seek refuge in a rival political party, another suggestion reported to have emerged from these discussions is the possibility of setting up a parallel Congress without the Nehru-Gandhi family.

These confabulations have been triggered by Rahul Gandhi’s appointments in the party’s state units. Unhappy Congress members had hoped that after Rahul Gandhi became more visible and vocal on his return from his sabbatical mid-April, he would work on the party’s revival by strengthening the state units. But his move to revamp various state units has only further fuelled their resentment.

“The changes made by Rahul Gandhi give a clear impression that he does not favour the established leadership in the states as a conscious effort has been made to sideline their supporters,” explained a senior Congress leader.

Dissent in state units

Once a favourite of the Congress leadership, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was taken aback when his loyalists were not given primacy in the reconstituted Pradesh committee. An angry Hooda hit back by demonstrating his strength at the Congress party’s kisan rally last Sunday when he inundated the venue with his supporters especially trucked in from Haryana.

Next, it was the turn of Madhya Pradesh Congress. Like Hooda, senior state leaders like Digvijaya Singh and Kamal Nath got a shock when their supporters were marginalised in the new Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee. They were further irked when it became clear that Rahul Gandhi had decided not to replace his protégé, state unit president Arun Yadav, despite the fact that the party failed to make any dent in the popularity of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s popularity even in the local elections which were held in the backdrop of the Vyapam scam. Unhappy state leaders have held a series of talks to discuss their future course of action.

These rumblings are not confined to Haryana or Madhya Pradesh alone. In Chhattisgarh, former chief minister and chief rebel Ajit Jogi is waiting to strike out at the Congress leadership as it has become evident that the party is not going to project him as its chief ministerial candidate while his supporters in the state have been systematically cut to size.

Similarly, former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is working overtime to protect his political turf as there is a conscious effort by the leadership to promote new and younger faces at the cost of the old timers.

Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has been hitting the headlines for several months now with his demand for the control of the party’s state unit. Ever since he went on the warpath to press for the removal of his bete noire, Punjab Congress president Partap Singh Bajwa, there have been several reports suggesting that Amarinder Singh could form his own party if he does not have his way. Amarinder Singh hinted as much in a recent interview in which he criticised Rahul Gandhi and stated that if things do not change, he “may have to look at options”. Hitting back, Bajwa openly charged that Singh is all set to split the party and is in talks with Congress legislators in this regard.

Generational change

Congress insiders attribute these rumblings to a clash between the old guard and the newcomers which, they maintain, is bound to happen when a party is undergoing a generational change.

“Now that Sonia Gandhi has virtually handed over the reins of the party to Rahul Gandhi, he wants to place his own loyalists in the state units,” explained another senior Congress functionary.

But many whose political careers are in jeopardy are ready to fight it out. There is growing talk in this section of the Congress that it should explore other options.

Disgruntled leaders maintain that in the past, they could always approach Congress president Sonia Gandhi with their grievances as she had taken care to accommodate party members who worked with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. While she was always receptive to their suggestions, the Congress president has now decided not to interfere with Rahul Gandhi’s plans to revamp the party. These plans, long-time members point out, do not include giving space to old timers as the Nehru-Gandhi scion is said to be of the firm belief that they have developed vested interests over the years.

“We have got the distinct impression that all those who are unhappy with the changes are free to leave,” said a senior Congress leader.