Outsider in his party
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The third phase of the Congress party-government relationship carries features from the past. Inaugurated in 2004, the party central office and the party in public office are formally distinct, as in the first phase. However, the roles are reversed, with the government playing a subsidiary role to the central office. But unlike anytime in the past, the party-family link is much stronger.
Rao's tenure came during phase two. As PM, he formally controlled both the party and government. However, the party-family link continued to exist, albeit informally. He was the first non-family Congress PM to complete a full term. Given his loyalty to the party or his own personal preference, depending on one's perspective, he probably attempted to chart a new path, breaking those links. The winds of change threatened many who were accustomed to living "from, rather than for, politics". For them, their position in the party was perhaps more important than the state of the party itself. Before any change could take root, those invested in the links hit back. When the party was defeated, Rao's position as leader of the party weakened and he was forced to quit.
So, in today's Congress, Rao is an odd man. He had attempted to steer a new path, which the party refused to take. If the party were to acknowledge him, it would implicitly give him and his actions legitimacy. It pays, therefore, to discredit him or, even better, to forget him.
The writer is with the department of political science, Panjab University, Chandigarh