Congress losing control of states
Should the Congress Party be worried about the continuing erosion of its workers and leaders? Are the rats leaving the sinking ship? There is no doubt that the party is losing its organisational depth, more so since Modi came to power. There is rebellion brewing in various states.
This week alone saw the exit of two senior Congress leaders - Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh and Gurudas Kamat in Maharashtra frustrated with the Congress leadership (read Rahul Gandhi). While Jogi, a former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, has launched his own outfit, Kamat wants to quit politics altogether. To add to the confusion, six Congress MLAs left the party in Tripura on Monday.
Significantly, the erosion had begun even before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when leaders like Birender Singh (Haryana), G.K. Vasan (Tamil Nadu), Jayanthi Natarajan (Tamil Nadu) Giridhar Gomango (Orissa) K.S. Rao. R. Sambasiva Rao. Kiran Reddy and Jagan Reddy (all from Andhra Pradesh), Jagadambika Pal (UP) and Satpal Maharaj (Uttarakhand) quit the Congress.
Late N.T. Rama Rao’s daughter Purandeshwari ditched the Congress for the BJP. The leadership refused to recognise the brewing storm for the past two years, deluding itself that everything was alright. Jogi's rebellion follows revolts in Assam and Uttarakhand where rebels left the Congress blaming the leadership for not addressing their grievances. Himanta Biswa Sarma was crucial to BJP's win in Assam while Uttarakhand’s ex-CM Vijay Bahuguna almost brought down the Rawat government.
Though Kamat’s decision to retire from active politics came as a bolt from the blue he represents the wounded sentiment of many loyalists. His exit would be a big blow for the party ahead of the civic polls next year. What should be worrying for the Congress leadership is that most of these leaders have been Pradesh Congress Committee presidents or general secretaries at one time or the other.
Why is the party facing this crisis? It is baffling that even now the Congress leadership has failed to grasp the seriousness of the situation despite rebels flexing their muscles in different parts of the country. The first is the leadership crisis. The party is confused about the role of Rahul Gandhi and his handpicked lieutenants most of whom have been imported.
Is he going to take over and If so when? What happens to Sonia Gandhi then? Will Rahul be able to get them votes? The confusion is complete as Sonia has taken a back seat leaving her son to be the defacto party chief. A reshuffle at AICC is expected but adding to this ambiguity is the apprehension that Rahul might ease out the old guard. Rahul’s experiment in tinkering with the Youth Congress, NSUI and other wings of the party has not been altogether successful.
There is a grouse that his handpicked men have rubbed the seniors in the wrong way. In short, the confidence level in Rahul is not very high.Secondly, the Congress leadership failed to see brewing storm in most Congress ruled states like Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Uttarakhand. Even Karnataka is not quite stable. The leadership had not detected the undercurrent while the rebels are directly pointing a finger at the leadership.
Thirdly, the situation is nearer to the situation which had hit the party in the late nineties. Just before Sonia Gandhi decided to take over the leadership in 1998, several senior and junior leaders like K.C. Pant and Aslam Sher khan, Dileep Singh Bhuria left the Congress. Mamata Banerjee floated the Trinamool Congress. Sonia’s entry had arrested the erosion and she could not only unify the party but also bring the Congress-led UPA to power not once but twice from 2004 to 2014. After Modi’s entry, neither the mother nor the son is able to provide the confidence to the party that they could get them votes.
Not much has been done to nurture second rung leadership. For months, the Congress leaders from Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Haryana, and Chhattisgarh have been complaining against the PCC chiefs. In Punjab, the leadership was ultimately forced to choose Capt. Amarinder Singh as the chief ministerial face for the 2017 polls. Even in the current Rajya Sabha nominations indicate that leaders like Kapil Sibal. Chidambaram and Ambika Soni, belonging to the old guards are not out. Fourthly, the proposal to set up an advisory council has been ridiculed with some wondering what the role of the Congress Working Committee was then.
Many senior Congressmen are worried at this state of affairs and fear that the Congress may sink further if corrective measures are not taken before it is too late. There is urgency in putting the right man for the right job and restructure the organisation blending a mix of young and old. There should be a change of style of functioning of the leadership.
The party workers have to be enthused with programs and schemes at the ground level. The present confusion about Rahul Gandhi’s role should end so that he can plan for 2019. The 130-old party should not allow this existential crisis to continue. Living in the past is not the answer and working for the future is the way to go forward. This is the time for reckoning.
(The views are personal.)