Educating Rahul: Make Mamata Congress President

Last Updated: Mon, Jun 23, 2014 17:52 hrs

This is the second of a two-part series on Educating Rahul. The first part was on Educating Rahul: How the BJP grew.

A Congress revival is not rocket science. It is a simple matter of smart thought and hard work. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi could start with a single step.

Make Mamata Banerjee Congress president

Rajiv Gandhi first spotted talent in Mamata Banerjee in the 1980s. He gave her space and leadership in the Indian Youth Congress, the youth wing of the Congress. Those years appear to have been airbrushed from the Mamata Banerjee narrative - there's barely a mention anywhere - but they were full of action.

Moscow hosted an international youth summit in the 1980s to which Rajiv Gandhi sent a large delegation of the Youth Congress. It included Mamata Banerjee as one of the seniors; she was possibly the only woman in the group. In Russia, the delegation overdosed on noise, alcohol and politics.

They were generally unmanageable. They returned to New Delhi on an Air India flight. There was more booze and more recklessness. Some of the Youth Congress men targeted Mamata Banerjee. She landed in New Delhi shaken and disgusted.

The conduct of the Youth Congress delegation was front page news for a while. It was the beginning of Mamata Banerjee's distaste for the Congress. Apparently she couldn't anymore find the oneness with the Congress needed to thrive in the party.

Narasimha Rao - who took over after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi - gave Mamata her first break as minister but her heart was by then in West Bengal politics.

The CPI(M) had perfected what was described as scientific rigging - essentially finding people to step in for the dead, keeping Congress supporters off the voters' lists and jamming polling queues so only CPI(M) supporters could vote.

Mamata led a Youth Congress protest in Kolkata - in the middle of Rao's term as prime minister - seeking voter I-cards in West Bengal to prevent scientific rigging. There was huge buzz about this and the Jyoti Basu government told the police to do anything to control things.

On a violent July afternoon, the police fired into the crowd at one place. Thirteen people died and Mamata won a moral and political victory. By 1998 she formed the Trinamool Congress saying people wanted a clean Congress.

The point of all this is that the Nehru-Gandhis have always liked Mamata. There is no personal detritus to clear. The only reason she formed her party was that the Congress didn't back her in West Bengal - Pranab Mukherjee, now President of India, was given the job of keeping Mamata in the Congress with no real authority.

This is now ancient history. Mamata has bested the CPI(M) in West Bengal, which was her primary objective. She is far stronger now and the Nehru-Gandhis much weaker. The time is right for homecoming.

Rahul Gandhi could simply complete what Rajiv Gandhi began - give Mamata charge. She is the only Congress politician at the moment with a big scalp. She has won long and dirty political battles. She has managed the growth of a party.

These are exactly the traits the Congress HR managers ought to be hunting for. There are two bonuses with Mamata.

She is firmly anti-Narendra Modi and she has 34 members in the Lok Sabha. This should be music to Rahul's ears. Mamata has described Modi as donkey, devil and a dangerous person at various times. Her spokesperson called Modi the butcher of Gujarat.
Modi and Mamata have fought over everything, including the value of Mamata's paintings. Rahul Gandhi ought to make a dash to Kolkata and woo Mamata. Presidency of the Congress party is an offer Mamata cannot refuse.

And then her 34 MPs are precious. They would nearly double the Congress strength in the Lok Sabha to 78. This means they have formal claim for leadership of the opposition.

All this is still loose change. There are other benefits.

The Congress could unsettle Modi and the RSS by embracing Mamata. Rahul would prove the Congress is serious about opening up its leadership. It would mean the Nehru-Gandhis are thinking politically.

It would indicate pure long-term vision. It would electrify the party in West Bengal and in other states. It would generate media mileage away from Modi.

There are two more factors. One, there is no real reason for the Trinamool Congress to exist. It is the Congress by another name. Two, if Rahul doesn't talk to Mamata, Modi will. Modi recognises the need to defang Mamata. He'll offer something attractive.

Make Sharad Pawar Congress chairperson

The return of Mamata needs to be top priority but there are others who could raise Congress stock too. Sharad Pawar is a sort of a secular LK Advani. He has the age and the mileage but he stopped short of the top post.

Pawar formed the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the summer of 1999 only because the Congress leadership was handed over to Sonia Gandhi and not him. Pawar argued then that Sonia was foreign but that is old hat now.

The NCP too is the Congress by another name. There is no reason for it to exist. But since Pawar is senior to Mamata, he might need a grand gesture. Chairperson of the Congress might work.

The return of the NCP would boost the Congress in Maharashtra where an assembly election is due later this year. It would upset the Shiv Sena and the BJP. It would energise the Congress in other parts of India as well.

NCP members in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha would consolidate the Congress in parliament, just as the Trinamool members would.

The heart is healed when the estranged return. The Congress needs to attend to old injury right away. It makes more sense than changing chief ministers as second thought.

Plus, a fiery Mamata and a crafty Pawar would allow Rahul room to evolve. It is win, win and win.

More from the author:

Educating Rahul: How the BJP grew

Delhi diary: The book that Narendra Modi killed

10 things Indians can do without Narendra Modi

10 things that can get the Aam Aadmi Party back on track

The scary BJP work ethic Modi should change

Modi beware: All Indian politicians end in failure

10 things I support Narendra Modi on

Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi.

Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at

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