Predictably, rumblings against the entrenched leadership in the Congress Party have begun afresh following the party’s dismal performance in Bihar. It won only 19 of the 70 seats contested, whereas in 2015, when the political conditions were not half as favourable, it had won 27 of the 41 seats contested. So stupendous was the Congress failure that it alone made the difference between the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan sitting in Opposition and occupying seats of power.
Senior party leader and eminent lawyer Kapil Sibal was quick to demand accountability for the Bihar flop show, suggesting that Rahul Gandhi could not escape blame. A leading light of the G-23 group which had famously belled the cat as it were, by demanding an end to the coterie rule in the party, clearly implicating the Gandhis for the progressive decline in its fortunes, was ticked off by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and his bete noire Sachin Pilot. They deprecated Sibal and some others for washing dirty linen in public.
Why Gehlot and Pilot found themselves on the same page was not hard to comprehend. The former remains chief minister thanks to the blessings of the Gandhis, the latter hopes to replace Gehlot, again with the blessings of the Family. But Sibal, not being a career politician, is in an enviable position insofar as his first job as a senior Supreme Court lawyer allows him a certain leeway to see things from an independent perspective in his second and parallel career as a Congress politician.
Aside from Sibal, lesser known Congressmen have expressed despair at the non-viability of Rahul’s leadership. It is notable that Karti Chidambaram, Congress member of the Lok Sabha, rose to the defence of Sibal when the latter was attacked by Gehlot and Pilot. On Wednesday, Karti’s father and former central minister P Chidambaram obliquely criticised the leadership. Responding to a question, he said the party had become weak on the ground, but for the former Finance Minister, the more worrying aspect of the disastrous performance of the Congress lay in the byelections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, UP, Karnataka etc.
Barring UP, in the other states, it was a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP , and the BJP emerged smelling like roses while the Congress faded, without even a face-saver. In a clear bid to buy time and allow the shock of defeat to wear off, the word from on-high was that the election performance of the party would be discussed by the Congress Working Committee. A date was yet to be fixed for such a meeting but going by the past experience of the CWC, it will talk out the matter, release an anodyne statement while endorsing the leadership of the Gandhis.
Packed with old fossils who rose in the party not by dint of their organisational prowess or their grip on the peoples’ pulse, but through cringing , craven sycophancy, they cannot be expected to do an honest post mortem of the party’s defeat and affix responsibility. They are time-servers, the reason why they are nominated to the CWC, the so-called powerful decision-making body of the once Grand Old Party.
Meanwhile, the crisis in the Congress has serious implications for the national polity insofar as the more it gets irrelevant the harder it becomes for the regional parties to coalesce around a national part to form a joint front to challenge the ascendant NDA. An unending series of setbacks for the Congress has vastly diminished its potential for heading a national Mahagathbandhan against the ruling combine.
Despite his low credibility with the voters, the Congress still insists on Rahul being projected as the prime ministerial candidate of an opposition alliance. This will not be acceptable to young leaders of regional parties with considerable influence in their respective states. For example, neither Akhilesh Yadav in UP nor Tejaswi Yadav in Bihar, having paid a heavy price for tying up with Rahul, will agree to play second fiddle to him in a future nation-wide Mahagathbandhan. Yet, his courtiers in the CWC will not cease singing paeans to his leadership, knowing that were he to do the right thing by the Congress and make way for a non-Gandhi to take control of the party, they would be orphaned, deprived of the right to strut about as proxies of the Family.
There may be a lot that ails the Congress but it is the Family that ails it the most. Only by getting rid of it can the Congress expect to kickstart the process of healing and eventual revival.