They have, expectedly, papered over the dissensions against Rahul Gandhi, with the big axe being used against anyone questioning the role of the Congress vice-President in the thorough rejection of the party in the recent Lok Sabha poll. So, as the joke goes, after Sonia Gandhi and her son offered resignations to themselves and then rejected it themselves in quick succession to a thundering applause from the assembled bonded slaves, the banner of rebellion has been raised in a number of state Congress units. And here, expectedly, the state leaders enjoy no protection of a guaranteed life-long tenure. They must quell the rebellion or get out. Period. That is why two state units in particular have been unsettled by the huge blow the voters delivered them on May 16. In Assam, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is hard put to blunt the challenge from the dissidents seeking his ouster following the unexpectedly bad showing of the Congress in the parliamentary poll. Considered a strong chief minister till the poll outcome shook his hitherto secure perch, Gogoi sensed the coming revolt by the dissident group immediately after the results. He had publicly committed to quit should the Congress fail to win ten of the fourteen LS seats in the state. In the event, the Congress managed only three, while the BJP won seven and others the remaining four.
In the 2009 election, the Congress had won seven of the 14 seats. Gogoi did offer to resign, but the Congress high command rejected the offer. How could the high command accept his resignation without it failing to own up its own responsibility for the worst-ever drubbing the party had received in its long history? However, the rejection of the Gogoi resignation did not settle matters. Apparently, 40 of the 79 MLAs are up in arms, seeking his replacement by another leader. The total strength of the Assembly is 126, while a fresh election is still some two years away. Gogoi sought the intervention of the central leadership, but despite meeting Rahul Gandhi twice, he failed to get any help. Following meetings with other central leaders, he was asked to prove his majority in the Congress Legislature Party. However much the party high command might have liked to discipline the rebellious MLAs, it could not come to the rescue of Gogoi since its own moral authority was vastly diminished by the thumping defeat in the parliamentary poll. So, last heard, Gogoi was set to test his majority in the CLP.
Whatever the outcome, uncertainty and instability will dog the Congress Government in Assam in the life of the present Assembly. Meanwhile, the situation in Maharashtra is no better. The Congress-NCP coalition fared much worse than the Congress in Assam, losing 42 of the 48 seats to the BJP-led NDA in the Lok Sabha poll. Even the NCP had expressed reservations about the leadership of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, but it is the revolt of Narayan Rane, a senior Congress leader and Industry Minister in the Chavan Cabinet, which has unnerved the Congress. Rane has virtually declared a war against Chavan, telling Sonia Gandhi in a missive that the party stared at a disaster if it went to the coming Assembly polls under his leadership. Himself a claimant for the chief minister’s post, Rane, however, has few friends in the NCP, a factor that the Congress high command will have to keep in mind while considering a change in Maharashtra. The situation in the state is so fluid that there are even doubts about the durability of the NCP-Congress alliance. The presence of Raj Thackeary’s MNS as the third force has skewed the situation further, as has the sudden death of the BJP leader Gopinath Munde. Indeed, some reports suggest that the BJP might induct Rane as one of its senior leaders, following Munde’s death, in order to project a non-Brahmin face in Maharashtra.
Given Rane’s aggressive and venal record, the party would be taking a calculated risk by admitting him. How the Sena would react to Rane’s entry into the BJP too would have to be considered, given that Rane had deserted the Sena following Uddhav Thackeray’s projection as chief minister by the late founder Balasaheb Thackeray. Notably, whether it is Assam or Maharashtra, the writ of the Congress high command no longer runs in the state units, following its morale-shattering loss in the Lok Sabha poll. Therefore, it looks like that the Congress in the states is in for bigger shocks, bigger defeats in the coming months and years, especially when the high command shows no sign of self-correction and self-atonement. Just as well. A party tied to the little finger of a clueless leader like Rahul Gandhi can deserve no better.