The present chaos is a direct outcome of the leadership crisis at the high command level
The mess in the Congress party is not just getting deeper but also mysterious. Ahead of crucial Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, the party’s internal crises have exploded to the extent that most Congress leaders have conceded defeat even before the first vote has been cast. A case in point is senior leader Ahmed Patel caught on tape asking Ghulam Nabi Azad and Bhupinder Singh Hooda in frustration: “Where has the party disappeared (in Haryana)?”
Nobody seems to have a clear idea. It had become fashionable, after Rahul Gandhi took charge as Congress president, that he would revamp the organisation and put his trusted lieutenants in important positions, thus weeding out the veterans who had failed to revive the party. After he quit following the 2019 Lok Sabha debacle and Sonia Gandhi took charge as interim chief, it was said that she would revive the fortunes of the sidelined seniors and show cut to size the youngsters Rahul Gandhi had promoted. Thus, the narrative of Sonia Gandhi camp versus Rahul Gandhi gained currency.
One is tempted to feel sorry for Sonia Gandhi. As she faces the task of keeping the flock together — and she is not succeeding in it — Rahul Gandhi took off for foreign shores on a holiday.
The current situation is baffling because it does not fit that theory. Both Ashok Tanwar and Sanjay Nirupam, who have displayed a rebellious streak and menacingly predicted doom for the party in the coming polls, are considered close to Rahul Gandhi. Tanwar has resigned from the primary membership of the party and Nirupam is just about hanging on, for now. This gives an indication of the Rahul Gandhi brigade revolting. Except that Nirupam has targeted the likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Milind Deora, who too are Rahul Gandhi confidants. So, it’s not a clear script of Rahul group versus the Sonia group.
One is tempted to feel sorry for Sonia Gandhi. As she faces the task of keeping the flock together — and she is not succeeding in it — Rahul Gandhi took off for foreign shores on a holiday. He is clearly uninterested in either helping his mother in this particular assignment or reviving the party. Contrast his behaviour with his bravado after he quit as president, that he would continue to work for the good of the party and revive its glory.
The situation in Haryana is bad for Congress. Weeks ago, the party’s tallest leader in the State had threatened to leave if he did not have his way; he said the party had lost direction. Earlier, his son Deepender Singh Hooda defied the party’s position on Article 370 and held the Modi government’s decision to effectively repeal it, as correct. He was mollified by easing out of Tanwar as State party chief. But Tanwar did not take the decision lying down and spoke out. There are more factions in the Haryana Congress than the number of States the party rules.
The Maharashtra situation is no better. Over the last few months, a clutch of senior and influential leaders of the Congress have quit and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. to add to the Congress’s misery, leaders from its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party, too have switched camps to either the BJP or its partner, the Shiv Sena. Nirupam has claimed that the Congress will win in just three or four seats from Mumbai.
The leadership tussle is not restricted to just these two States, though there is greater media attention on them because they vote in a few days from now. In Rajasthan, the Sachin Pilot camp is pithed against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, while in Madhya Pradesh the Jyotiraditya Scindia group is at loggerheads with Chief Minister Kamal Nath and senior leader Digvijaya Singh. A Scindia loyalist recently accused Digvijaya Singh of running the government by proxy.
The present chaos is a direct outcome of the leadership crisis at the high command level. There was a leadership vacuum after Rahul Gandhi put in his papers, and weeks went by without a replacement. During this period, the party also lost power in Karnataka. With Rahul Gandhi missing in action, it was a free-for-all. It had rarely happened in recent years that senior leaders spoke out openly against their entrenched rivals; such bickering was confined to closed-door meetings. Emboldened by the absence of central leadership, they gathered the courage to not just speak out but also rebel.
The chaos is likely to get worse if — or, after — the Congress loses in Maharashtra and Haryana. It had done poorly in 2014, in both the Assembly and the Lok Sabha elections. A repeat performance could encourage the factional leaders to step up their respective campaigns, resulting in more headaches for the party high command. Besides, there are other important State polls lined up — Bihar and Delhi, for example. A disastrous showing now could adversely impact the Congress’s prospects in these States too.
What, then, is the roadmap for the Congress? Nobody knows because none is sure if the party can see the road even. One rebellious leader remarked that certain sections within the party were determined to ensure a Congress-free India. The only thing going in favour of the Congress is its pan-India organisational presence and committed loyalties among the voters. But that is not enough, as elections in the last five years have shown. The party needs a leader who can pump life into it. Does it have such a leader? Perhaps it does, though we will know only if that leader gets a fair chance. Until then, it will continue to hand victories to the BJP on a platter.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.