Congress members question Gandhi leadership in India

India's Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi addresses a press conference at the party headquarters in New Delhi, in this May 16, 2014 photo.

India’s Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi addresses a press conference at the party headquarters in New Delhi, in this May 16, 2014 photo.

NEW DELHI: Rumblings of dissent are growing against the Gandhi family that leads India’s hapless Congress Party, five months after the most resounding electoral defeat in the party’s 129-year history.

The Gandhis’ troubles are helping Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he seeks to further his agenda of economic and social reform by winning control of the upper house of parliament.

Disgruntled Congress members pasted newspaper over portraits of the mother-son team of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi at a party office in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on Monday, after a party veteran shunned their leadership and formed his own splinter group.

G.K. Vasan, a former minister, was the latest in a series of regional leaders to quit the party, which was pushed out of office in May, clinging to just 44 of 543 seats in parliament.

Vasan’s departure triggered more criticism of the Gandhis and their perceived lack of introspection.

On Wednesday, Karti Chidambaram, the son of India’s previous finance minister, said the Congress leadership should give state chapters of the party more freedom.

“We must rethink this high-command observer culture,” he said. “We cannot wait for Delhi to show the path in every single way.”

Congress faced further embarrassment at the weekend when Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, shoved away the microphone of a journalist who asked him about allegations he profited from sweetheart land deals.

Vadra was pilloried for his responses of “Are you serious?” and “Are you nuts?” which became Twitter sensations. Analysts said the incident was a reminder of the stand-offish attitudes that led many people to reject the party in May.

“The Vadra incident simply smacks of the arrogance of power,” said Sandeep Shastri, a professor of political science at Bangalore-based Jain University.

Modi has repeatedly promised a “Congress-free India” to end the domination of a party that has ruled India for most of the 67 years since freedom from British rule. He blames the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for the country’s slow development.

 
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