Several high-performing and young leaders of Congress have parted ways from the Congress party
The Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan may fall soon. Or it may later. That is a matter of speculation. What appears certain is that it will not last its full term. The more important question is: Why is the Congress party unable to retain talent, leaders that were seen as its future? The immediate answer would be: Because its high command, which essentially is the Nehru-Gandhi family, feels insecure in the company of those that have a mind of their own, their own mass base, and are not in the habit of confusing loyalty with slavery.
Several high-performing and young leaders of Congress have parted ways with the party because of the failure of the ‘First Family’ to ensure that performance is rewarded and respected. Hemanta Biswa Sarma of Assam quit the Congress because he was not taken seriously. He went to the BJP and became the architect of the party’s victory in the Assam Assembly elections. Besides, he has been playing a key role in spreading the reach of the BJP in the entire North-East. Jyotiraditya Scindia walked away from the Congress and joined the BJP after being repeatedly marginalised in Madhya Pradesh by his own government led by Kamal Nath. In neither of these cases, did the Congress leadership — Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi — show sensitivity to their concerns. Instead, they rubbed salt into their wounds by backing those who had humiliated the youth leaders.
One needs to only recall the treatment meted out to veterans such as Sitaram Kesri and PV Narasimha Rao.
Sachin Pilot’s case was not very different. Like Scindia and Sarma, he was a stalwart of the Congress’s youth brigade. Like them, he was considered close to Rahul Gandhi. And like them, he was betrayed by Rahul Gandhi, who did not lift a finger when he was being humiliated. Nor did he step in proactively to assuage their feeling of hurt and set matters right. The result was the loss of these leaders. Not just that, it led to the loss of the States of Assam and Madhya Pradesh for the Congress. Now, it’s Rajasthan’s turn.
As we all know, the problem with either Scindia or Pilot did not happen overnight. In fact, ever since the Congress government was formed in late 2018 in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, issues began to crop up. Both Scindia and Pilot repeatedly made their displeasure known to the high command, but they were not taken seriously. Indeed, they were taken for granted, while Kamal Nath (assisted by party veteran Digvijaya Singh) and Ashok Gehlot were humoured. This reflected both Sonia Gandhi’s and Rahul Gandhi’s lack of regard for the two young leaders. Unfortunately for the Congress party, these leaders had enough self-respect to call a spade a spade.
The First Family’s disdain for anyone in the party who refuses to toe its line has not been restricted to young leaders. One needs to only recall the treatment meted out to veterans such as Sitaram Kesri and PV Narasimha Rao. While the first was unceremoniously ousted from the party president’s post to make way for Sonia Gandhi to take over, the second was humiliated even in his death when Rao’s body was refused entry in the Congress headquarters in New Delhi for one last time.
There were others. When Sharad Pawar refused to accept the idea that Sonia Gandhi could be the country’s Prime Ministers, his continuation in the party was made difficult. He eventually went his own way by forming the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Mamata Banerjee was not given her due win in the party, and she split it to establish the Trinamool Congress which not only finished off the Congress in Bengal but also decimated the Left. Another party veteran Pranab Mukherjee was kicked upstairs as President of the country.
Unable to contain the rising dissent and desperation to deflect attention, the official line of the Congress party has been to blame the BJP for its failures.
Cohorts of the First Family may be smug about the recent developments but there are many within the party who are upset and worried. A former member of Parliament Priya Dutt, Haryana leader Kuldeep Bishnoi, and others like Jitin Prasada and Kapil Sibal, for instance. Some among these have voiced their concerns openly; Sibal lamented the lack of timely action while Bishnoi called for a change in the party’s mindset. There have been a few that have been more vocal and paid the price for it. Long-time Congress face in news television studios, Sanjay Jha, was first removed as the party’s spokesman and later removed from the party, for an article that he wrote in a leading daily, critical of the party’s functioning. He also came in open support of Pilot and the mishandling of his issue.
Unable to contain the rising dissent and desperation to deflect attention, the official line of the Congress party has been to blame the BJP for its failures. It has accused the ruling party at the Centre for masterminding defections and exploiting the Congress’s troubles. The BJP certainly has sought to exploit the situation, but that is what any political rival would do. But the problems that the Congress faces are of its own making. The other strategy that Congress has allied is to discredit leaders who have raised the banner of revolt. When Scindia quit, Congress leaders went on an overdrive to question his loyalty, going all the way down to his family’s history. In the case of Pilot, they pointed out to that he had been given a ticket to contest Lok Sabha polls when he just 26 years of age, later made a Union Minister, then Rajasthan Congress chief and Deputy Chief Minister. The Congress leaders sought to place the narrative as a favour they had done to the young leader.
The Congress boasts of a robust internal democracy within the party. That claim stands busted. Instead of expending energy on blaming the BJP for its ills, the party leadership should introspect. But that, as we all know, will not happen.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.