The high command had failed to control infighting in the party’s Gujarat unit; the Congress was run by a dynasty; the party was not concerned with issues of the people but occupied with self-interest
The Congress may not yet have imploded in Gujarat, but it is certainly facing serious trouble. Three of its MLAs quit the party over the past few days and joined the BJP. The optics are bad enough, but coming as it does weeks ahead of the Lok Sabha election, the development adds to the Congress’s embarrassment. Also, it is possible that some more migrations may happen in the days ahead leading to the poll.
In Goa, after the last Assembly poll, although it emerged as the single largest party, it sat on its haunches and allowed the BJP to stitch alliances and form the Government.
The Congress had been exulting after its performance in the last Assembly election when it did better than in the previous three occasions. The BJP had just about managed to breach the simple majority mark. Calling it a ‘moral victory’, senior Congress leaders had begun to talk of a comeback for the party which had been in the wilderness for nearly two decades in the State. But recent events have put paid to those dreams for now and has virtually no chance of doing well in the 26 Lok Sabha seats from there. Its best-case scenario is probably a couple of seats. The worst case situation is something the party is familiar with: In the 2014 poll, it had drawn a blank.
It’s amazing that a party which seemed to be in revival mode just 15 months ago, is back in the dumps. But the Congress has an ability to knock off advantages that accrue to it. It takes even the rare victory for granted and fails to read the ground signals which warn of crises. In Gujarat, the State unit is faction-ridden, with each group seeking to outdo the other in ingratiating itself with the party’ high command, primarily Congress president Rahul Gandhi. And the party chief, located at a considerable distance from the epicentre of trouble and content in the belief that trouble-makers can be adequately dealt with either through coercion or disdain, has no clue on how to contain dissidence.
But Gujarat is no exception to such setbacks. The Congress has experienced similar issues in other States — Assam, Arunachal Pradesh etc — and suffered as a consequence. The failure is all-round, right from the high command down to the State leadership and the central party in-charges. The Congress has been remarkably adept in turning victory into defeat. In Goa, after the last Assembly poll, although it emerged as the single largest party, it sat on its haunches and allowed the BJP to stitch alliances and form the Government. And even as this is being written, the party has virtually abandoned its relatively stronger pitch against the Modi government of jobless growth and agrarian distress and decided to self-destruct by criticising the incumbent regime in New Delhi on anti-terror strikes inside Pakistani territory.
One can draw a parallel with the current developments in Karnataka, where the Congress’s local leadership is battling troubles almost on a weekly basis. Here too, like in the case of Gujarat, the party has failed to capitalise on gains
The reasons the MLAs have given for quitting the Congress and crossing over to the BJP’s side are familiar enough. The high command had failed to control infighting in the party’s Gujarat unit; the Congress was run by a dynasty; the party was not concerned with issues of the people but occupied with self-interest; the BJP is development-oriented. These may seem to be after-thought explanations for the leaders to switch camps, but they not without justification.
The issue of dissent, for instance, is old and has remained unresolved. Less than a year ago, Congress workers in Ahmedabad stormed the venue of a Press conference being addressed by the then State president and ransacked the office. Local leaders, including some senior MLAs, had been unhappy with the high command’s choice of the State office-bearers, including the president. The then Congress strongman of Saurashtra, Indranil Rajyaguru, who had unsuccessfully contested on a Congress ticket against Vijay Rupani who went on to become the Chief Minister, had said: “I’m unhappy with the State leadership (of the Congress).” He was not the only one to lash out at the party. Kunwarjit Bawalia and Javeed Pirzada had also expressed deep disappointment. Towards the end of 2018, a bunch of senior Gujarat Congress leaders and MLAs had met at the residence of prominent leader Arjun Modhwadia and registered their strong disapproval over the functioning of the State leadership.
Two things stand out clear: One, that Rahul Gandhi had made the wrong choices in the State’ leadership. And two, he had failed to address dissidence when it broke out in the open. One can draw a parallel with the current developments in Karnataka, where the Congress’s local leadership is battling troubles almost on a weekly basis. Here too, like in the case of Gujarat, the party has failed to capitalise on gains.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.