It is hardly surprising that the Congress Party is in disarray, following its ignominious, virtual decimation in the Lok Sabha elections. There are revolts brewing in Assam and Maharashtra against the incumbent chief ministers, Tarun Gogoi and Prithviraj Chavan respectively and in Haryana, a prominent leader, Chaudhary Birendra Singh, has raised the banner of revolt against Chief Minister Hooda. Murmurs of discontent are manifest even against the central leadership of the party, with disillusionment against the fountainhead Sonia Gandhi and her son and vice-president Rahul all-too-evident. There is indeed a crisis of leadership in the party, with Sonia pushing Rahul to take the lead role and Rahul acutely aware that he is unequal to the task of rebuilding the party. With elections to some states round the corner, the party is woefully lacking a sense of direction.
Sulking senior Maharashtra Congress minister Narayan Rane on Monday met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, gave his resignation and later slammed him for his “slackness” in decision-making. He does not want to be a “partner in defeat” in the assembly elections due later this year, Rane said. Similarly, another senior Congress minister in the Assam government, Himanta Biswas Sarma, met the state governor and submitted his resignation. He claimed he met the governor along with 38 MLAs and expressed non-confidence in the chief minister. Assam goes to the polls in less than two years. Both Narayan Rane and Himanta Biswas Sarma are clearly jockeying for power and their ‘revolt’ is motivated by personal ambitions, but such audacity in Congressmen shows itself up typically when the party is down and out. Rane, a longtime aspirant for the CM’s post, also expressed his displeasure with Congress’ central leadership. “I was told I will be made CM in six months. But in nine years the promise has not been kept,” said Rane, who has been publicly claiming he was assured of the chief minister’s post when he quit the Shiv Sena to join the Congress in 2005. Clever handling and a bit of tact may well defuse the situation but the undercurrent is clear—that some blackmail and arm-twisting can work when the party leadership is beleaguered.
Significantly, the much-touted Young Turks, who swore by Rahul Gandhi before the general elections, are openly giving vent to their disillusionment now. Former Union Minister Milind Deora, who lost the Lok Sabha seat from South Mumbai, said in a newspaper interview: “The question is whether the set of advisers had their ears to the ground…There were strong murmurs in the party that people who are calling the shots are people with no electoral experience…no stature, standing, respect and credibility in the party.” Deora said a large section of the party leadership felt neglected and thought they were not being heard. While he did not name names, he hinted that even Rahul Gandhi could not shrug off the responsibility for the party’s crushing defeat in the polls. The plight of the Congress can be gauged from the fact that despite the ruling NDA being in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, it was able to wrench away most of the allies of the Congress to ensure the smooth passage of the Bill to remove legal hurdles in the appointment of former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chief Nripendra Misra as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. It was clear that the Congress had not done its homework with these parties, while the BJP had proactively done so. The Congress’ hopes of getting one of its leaders to don the mantle of the official Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha have been virtually dashed. A day after former Kerala Minister T H Mustafa was suspended from the Congress for calling Rahul a joker, several general secretaries and office bearers have conveyed to the party vice-president to either lead the newly-elected MPs in the Lok Sabha, or quit politics. Rahul Gandhi’s parliamentary record indeed speaks for itself. In the 15th Lok Sabha, he did not ask a single question and his attendance was a poor 42.61 per cent. In the standing committees, where parliamentary work is done, it was even more dismal, at 13.64 per cent. Also, he spent just 53.68 per cent of the MPLADS funds allocated to him.
Clearly, there can be no rejuvenation of the Congress under such circumstances. The upcoming state assembly elections in some states could indeed be crucial. If the Congress Party is mauled as badly as it was in the Lok Sabha elections, there could be more trouble for it from within. The only hope for the party could be if the Modi government commits a series of blunders and loses ground substantially with the electorate in the next few years.