Congress on the brink

Unable to squarely place the blame for the party's 2019 defeat on its leader, Rahul Gandhi, or key leaders, the party is going through a series of mini implosions

The Congress' fault lines are exposing themselves one by one post 2019 election debacle.

The daggers are out in the Congress as the party attempts to come to terms with its humiliating defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Headless in a sense after the party chief Rahul Gandhi declared his intention to step down; and unable to squarely place the blame on the leader or key leaders for the results, the party is going through a series of mini implosions.

The latest salvo was fired on the party’s data analytics department chief Praveen Chakravarty. A new inductee and a technocrat with no background in actual political work, Chakravarty reportedly misled Rahul Gandhi with delusional estimates of how many seats the party would win. The Congress ended up with 52 seats, bettering its tally of 2014 by eight.

But how could a former investment banker alone be held responsible for the party’s dismal showing? Should not the leader of India’s chief opposition party or its veterans have been able to read the mood of the people, who gave the BJP a whopping 303 seats on its own? These questions seem to hang in the air, unanswered, even as the party struggles with displaying a measure of coherence post the defeat.

Chakravarty on expected lines came out and rubbished the media reports as “lies” and slam the “mischievous, defamatory and patently absurd” reporting on this count.

Earlier, in the post-results Congress Working Committee meeting, Gandhi’s critical comments that former Union Minister P Chidambaram and chief ministers Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath had insisted on tickets for their respective sons, paying no heed to interests of Congress, brought out the disquiet in the party first. Rahul’s discomfort with the old guard’s preoccupation with their own family's interests came out in open.

Then the attempt to put the blame on Team Rahul — Chakravarty is believed to have had unfettered access to Rahul Gandhi’s office since he joined the party in February 2018 — points the resurfacing of the old guard versus the young rivalry in the party. There are murmurs about ‘apolitical’ advisors of Rahul Gandhi.

After 2014 Lok Sabha poll debacle too some remarks by senior leaders like Janardan Dwivedi and Digvijay Singh had irked the Rahul Brigade, who came together and wrote a letter to disapprove of veterans going public with “negative comments”. However, this time things are made worse by the fact that this Rahul Gandhi was directly in command of the party and besides the party’s repeat poor show, he, himself, lost in the family seat of Amethi.

Not surprisingly this state of affairs has induced utter confusion and chaos in a party that is held together by the Gandhi family’s authority. The party’s fault lines are exposing themselves one by one.

For instance, the rivalry between Ashok Gehlot and Sachi Pilot in Rajasthan has resurfaced as has the famous competition between the trinity of Madhya Pradesh—Digvijay Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath. Even in Haryana, the feud between Bhupendra Singh Hooda family and Ashok Tanwar (the Pradesh Congress Committee chief) threatens to its raise head.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi has shown no inclination to reconsider his decision. Perhaps having made the offer he needs to show that as the party’s central figure he means business. Things have got to appear to be different. Ideas of a Working President or an institutional mechanism with 11 to 15 members to take care of day-to-day affairs of the party are being deliberated upon.

Sonia Gandhi, who is the UPA Chairperson as well leader of Congress Parliamentary Party, is back in action. She has been holding most of the meetings of the party for its strategy in Parliament.

Rahul Gandhi’s insistence that the party should elect somebody else outside Nehru Gandhi family as party chief is in way a snub to the ‘loyalist’ (read old) brigade in the party. But his people are hardly qualified to do the job of rebuilding the party as the results have shown. The party now seems to be yo-yoing between these two power centres.

Meanwhile, the election of the Congress leader from West Bengal, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, as Leader of the party for Lok Sabha (the party falls three short of the minimum mark to claim Leader of Opposition status) shows that some thinking has gone into the selection.

Chowdhury’s election shows that Congress could be thinking tactically. He is seen as unfriendly to Mamata Banerjee. Now he being in Lok Sabha as leader, West Bengal unit of Congress could have better coordination with Mamata Banerjee. Adhir was replaced by Somen Mitra as state Congress chief last year. Also while Mallikarjun Kharge, the former Leader of the Congress in the LS was 76, Chowdhury is 63. The latter has more lung power in a House where the BJP has a brute majority.

Chowdhury was the least expected appointee. Kerala Congress working president K Suresh, party spokesperson Manish Tewari and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor were also in the reckoning for the post. Party sources said the West Bengal leader’s name was finalised after Rahul Gandhi said no to the demand of some Congress members to become the party’s Leader in the Lower House.

Congress may also soon have a new PCC chief for Madhya Pradesh, a post earlier held by Kamal Nath. A faction in the party is rooting for Jyotiraditya Scindia for the job. Some are pitching for state Home Minister Bala Bachchan. In Karnataka, a state where the party performed badly in the Lok Sabha polls, it dissolved the PCC, while retaining its president and working president – Dinesh Gundu Rao and Eashwar Khandre.

But these indications of recovery mean nothing if the party cannot get a grip on itself and address the leadership question head on.

Comments (+)