Vasan's exit depicts the state of affairs of Congress

Vasan's exit depicts the state of affairs of Congress

The Congress has described the split effected by G K Vasan in the Tamil Nadu Congress as nothing to worry about. The parent party may have a point, for Tamil Nadu does not send any 

Congress MP to the Lok Sabha, so it is not as if its already depleted numbers would get reduced further. The Congress has hardly been a player in the southern state and been out of power for 48 long years, just two short of half a century which is a long enough period to make any party irrelevant. 

The parent Congress was, however, worried by all accounts, about the fate of the many properties, including the famous Satyamurthy Bhavan, the party headquarters, that are owned by the TNCC.

 A split could always make the division of assets a messy business.

Senior Congressmen have dismissed the Vasan exit as no more than an ambitious leader parting company with the parent organisation which is no longer in power and his following would add up to “no more than 2 per cent” of the popular following in the state, since the Congress polled 4.3 per cent of the popular votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

These reactions are in themselves a commentary on the state of affairs in the Congress today. No doubt, when a party is decimated the way the Congress has been, knives get unsheathed against the leadership. This is not the first time this is happening, though the enormity of the crisis is unprecedented. Late prime minister and Congress president P V Narasimha Rao faced it when the Congress was defeated in 1996, and the former PM was given a humiliating ”quit by 4 pm or else” ultimatum to exit as the parliamentary party leader.  

What, however, causes concern is the response of the Congress leadership--or the lack of it. There seems to have been no real or determined effort to prevent Vasan from quitting the party, except a routine statement from the new TNCC chief EVKS Elangovan expressing hope that Vasan would return. 

It is also widely known that Vasan had been unhappy and restive over the last two years. But obviously, he could not be brought around. The fact is that Tamil Nadu has been more or less a write off as far as Delhi was concerned. The AICC general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu made “two trips to the state in the last two years”, if the state leaders are to be believed.

It is being said by way of an explanation that the party gave so much to Vasan —he was first made Congress chief in the state, then he was given the shipping portfolio in the UPA government and that “90 per cent of the office bearers in the TNCC were his people”. And that he should have been satisfied, but he wanted more.   

That Vasan is able to move out of the party with two out of five party MLAs, almost half the district presidents, and a host of former MPs and MLAs shows that he had not been “inconsequential”  organisational following, more than most in TNCC and that naturally needed to be respected. 

Damaging message

To build a regional party is no easy task. But that Vasan felt compelled to leave—it is not as if he is joining another existing party or an alliance of parties, not as of now, because the situation is very fluid in Tamil Nadu, given Jayalalitha’s conviction and the continuing unhappiness with the DMK, given the  2 G cases against some of its leaders – showed that he felt there was no future for him in the Congress. That is the damaging message emanating out of the Vasan affair. The question that follows is this: Is this a foretaste of things to come in other states where there are rumblings?

The statements made by many leaders—whether it was Punjab’s Jagmeet Brar urging Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to take a two year break, or the harsher statements about the leadership by Gufran E Azam from Madhya Pradesh, or P Chidambaram’s remark that the Congress could have a non Gandhi to lead it, or the more recent statement by Digvijay Singh, urging Rahul Gandhi to replace mother Sonia Gandhi as Congress chief, when not long ago, he had held him to be temperamentally unsuitable for the job – these are only indications of the rumblings that are going on inside the Congress today. 

Vasan is the latest in a row of those who have left the party in recent months, seeking greener pastures. He represents the tip of the iceberg of the churning that is on in the Congress party. There is huge dissatisfaction and demoralisation about a lack of clarity on the way ahead, what with a charismatic and determined Narendra Modi backed by the RSS on the rampage on the other side. 

In 1997, in a similar situation, when Congressmen were leaving the party, gravitating to the Vajpayee-led BJP, Sonia Gandhi’s entry into the party had stemmed the erosion that was taking place. The reason: Congressmen and women, at the end of the day, had faith in the ability of the Nehru-Gandhi family to garner votes and take the party to victory again. Today that faith has taken a severe beating. And there is no one that the party can turn to, to be the Sonia Gandhi of 1998. 

Sonia Gandhi is technically in charge of party affairs but has been devolving the responsibility to Rahul Gandhi. But the truth is that no matter what the rhetoric, Rahul Gandhi evokes a negative sentiment, both inside and outside the party. In the given situation, it is Sonia herself who will have to play a more pro-active role again. At the moment, the party has no other card up its sleeve.

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