If Rahul Gandhi wishes to continue as Congress President, he must assert himself and crack the whip.
The Congress is a rudderless ship, with its chief Rahul Gandhi remaining indecisive over his decision to quit as the party president. This is taking a toll on the party’s functioning in various States, with infighting, which was until recently latent, coming out in the open. State leaders are at a loss to understand as to how to stem the growing dissidence, with the high command, on whom they have depended for decades to settle their disputes, having plunged into a paralysis following the massive defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections.
Senior party leaders have been valiantly insulating Congress’s top leadership, which essentially means Rahul Gandhi and his family, from the crises. They have been claiming that the problems have to do with State leaders and that the high command cannot be held accountable. The fact is that State-level party issues have reached alarming levels precisely because there has been a failure at the high command level to tackle the problems. One Congress leader said on television that the troubles in the State units would not affect the strength of the Congress nationally. He appears to have forgotten that, if the Congress continues to lose ground in States, there is little that would be left of it nationally.
The war between the two camps is now out in the open, with Chief Minister Gehlot stating that Pilot too must take the blame for the party’s miserable showing in the State in the Lok Sabha polls.
In Telangana, where the party fared poorly in the Lok Sabha polls and had done badly in the last State elections, 12 of its 18 MLAs formed a bloc and switched over to the ruling TRS. Congress lamented that the development was the murder of democracy. Instead of indulging in rhetoric, the party leadership must assess the reasons for the departure of so many of its Legislators. One thing is clear: Congress’s high command failed to address the grievances of these public representatives; indeed, it even could not foresee the migration of its members to the TRS. Having done harakiri, the Congress has now been reduced to a virtual non-entity in the State and the BJP has been quick to fill the gap. With four MPs from there, the party is poised to expand its influence in this southern State, even as its government at the Centre seeks to maintain cordial relations with the ruling party of Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao.
The other southern State of Karnataka too offers little hope to the Congress. At two of its senior leaders have openly flayed the party leadership and said the Modi Government was doing a good job. There are others who are upset with the way the alliance with the Janata Dal (Secular) has been operating. There is fresh crisis almost on a daily basis in the State, and there is no saying when the coalition regime will collapse under its own weight and with some help from the BJP which has been viewing the developments with glee from the sidelines. The alliance’s loss in the 2019 polls demonstrated that things were seriously wrong at the ground level; even the veteran JD (S) leader and former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda lost the election. It is no open secret that in many constituencies, JD (S) workers did not work for the Congress candidates, and vice versa. All through this, the Congress high command has remained a mute spectator, failing to save the situation. The in-charge deputed by Rahul Gandhi to resolve the issues has himself come under fire, with one dissident leader calling him a “joker”. That neither the “joker” has been divested of his responsibility nor the accuser has been taken to task, demonstrates the high command’s indecisiveness.
The crisis has also hit States where the Congress had until recently been on a strong footing. In Madhya Pradesh, where it displaced the BJP rule a few months ago following its victory in Assembly elections, Chief Minister Kamal Nath is facing criticism from within his party for the massive defeat the Congress faced in the 2019 elections. He was accused of having concentrated more on ensuring his son won than heeding the interests of the party. It has been reported that Rahul Gandhi obliquely referred to this when he said that certain leaders were busier in working the victory of their kin. But Kamal Nath couldn’t care less, more so because he knows he is dealing with a weak high command, with Rahul Gandhi unsure himself of his continuation as the party’s president.
The situation in Rajasthan (where the Congress had won in the Assembly elections a few months ago) is no better, with strong demands emerging from within the Congress that Ashok Gehlot is replaced by Sachin Pilot. The war between the two camps is now out in the open, with Chief Minister Gehlot stating that Pilot too must take the blame for the party’s miserable showing in the State in the Lok Sabha polls. The Chief Minister was especially miffed with the defeat of his son. Like in the previously mentioned cases, the high command comprising the Congress’s first family has looked on helplessly.
It’s time Rahul Gandhi takes a firm decision. If he is firm on his decision to quit, then he must say so unambiguously and set in motion the process to elect a new president. If he wishes to continue, he must assert himself and crack the whip.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.