Sanjay Jha and Rahul Gandhi
Sanjay Jha and Rahul Gandhi

That Sanjay Jha would be cast out like Lucifer – for the cardinal sin of exhibiting free will – was quite evident.

Literary fest supremo William Dalrymple had once labelled the Congress a ever-diminishing herd of lemmings back when the party had re-appointed Sonia Gandhi as president.

The collective noun for lemmings is suicide, and one doesn’t need to be a literary fest enthusiast to know what Dalyrmple was hinting with his turn of phrase.

In a scathing article, Sanjay Jha had stated he was baffled by the Congress for showing ‘extraordinary lassitude and its lackadaisical attitude towards its political obsolescence’.

He had written: “There are many in the party who cannot comprehend this perceptible listlessness. For someone like me, for instance, permanently wedded to Gandhian philosophy and Nehruvian outlook that defines the Congress, it is dismaying to see its painful disintegration.”

Jha’s ouster as AICC spokesperson was hinted by a Kolkata-based newspaper – known for its atrocious puns and super-selectivity in speaking truth to power – a few days ago.

It had gone on to suggest that he would also be removed from the party as well.

However, Jha appears in no mood to ride quietly into the sunset. He made it clear that he wouldn't be leaving the Congress fold, evoking Nehru, and promising to remain a 'fearless ideological soldier of INC'.

Jha’s damnation is sadder when one considers that he was often the only soldier battling the fusillades and grenades from belligerent anchors in the heyday of the India Against Corruption movement. Despite being trolled, online and offline, he always held firm articulating Congress’ rebuttals with dignity and poise.

Jha is paying the price for breaking ranks and pointing out the simple inconsistencies in the grand old party, which are apparent to anyone with working brain cells.

The Congress has virtually outsourced winning elections – barring some states – to other Opposition parties. It’s become comfortable in its mediocrity, happy to play junior partners in some places and in others, willingly stepping aside to make room for other Opposition parties.

However, what’s interesting about Jha’s rebellion is the fact he’s not a mass leader but a Mumbai-based businessman and a president of the All India Professional Congress.

It would almost be foolish to assume that Jha – a communication expert and director of the Mumbai-based Dale Carnegie – is a lone wolf.

A piece by veteran Congress watcher and journalist Rasheed Kidwai had hinted that Sanjay Jha’s agitation was silently backed by several top leaders including a three-time Kerala Congress MP, a Delhi-based lawyer and several young leaders, who are annoyed with the dependence on KC Venugopal, Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge and Ashok Gehlot.

It went to suggest that Jha is acting at the behest of ‘an internal lobby’.

Many feel that an older generation closer to Sonia Gandhi is preventing the churn needed to keep Congress afloat and making it a fighting force again.

In recent times, Sharmishta Mukhherjee took umbrage with P Chidambaram wondering if Congress had ‘outsourced’ winning elections.

Likewise, Milind Deora and Ajay Maken clashed over the former’s support of AAP’s fiscal measures, which led Maken to ask Deora to leave the party.

Congress has been haemorrhaging talent in the last few years, which is an irony given that BJP keeps winning elections but suffers a talent deficit, not when it comes to winning elections but when it comes to filling the higher echelons of government.

On the other hand, Congress has been losing important leaders. They lost Himanta Biswa Sarma, a very talented organiser from the North East, who has helped turn many of those states saffron.

Legend has it that Himanta Biswa Sarma’s ouster was precipitated by Rahul Gandhi’s snub, when he preferred to play with his dog Pidi than talk to Sarma.

They risked losing Amarinder Singh before the Punjab Elections, which is ironic given he is one of the tallest Congress leaders who delivered his own state single-handedly in a three-way fight with AAP and BJP-SAD, and is universally respected across the aisle.

In 2019, perhaps would’ve done better in Haryana if they’d backed the Hoodas earlier in the day.

The high-command position of alienating regional satraps over the years has made Congress a shadow of its former self at the ballot box.

Losing Scindia

The latest jolt was losing Rahul Gandhi’s closest aide Jyotraditya Scindia, a man so close to Gandhi that the latter could literally walk in to play a game of badminton with the former Congress president whenever he so desired.

Even with the Scindias’ long history with Hindutva, BJP and its predecessors, the switch was quite a shock.

The family has often managed to silence those who question it but then again, the Congress has never been in such a position, where they are unable to win elections with the Gandhis at the helm.

Election after election, the Gandhis, while providing fodder for ‘coming-of-age’ articles for columnists, haven’t managed to excite voters.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s grand debut included losing her brother’s family seat of Amethi, an almost unthinkable scenario a few years ago.

Who will be president?

And there's the oft-asked question, who will be president? Some would suggest a veteran like Amarinder Singh. Others would bat for the articulate Shashi Tharoor, who has said that Congress needs to ‘resolve the leadership issue’ if Rahul doesn’t return.

In 2018, at the Jaipur Literature Fest, Sreenivasan Jain had pointed out to Tharoor that he could aspire to be Secretary General at the United Nations, but not become President of his own party. A wry Tharoor had replied: “The reality is that no one will win a fair election against the current president of the party, he has the workers’ support.” What’s to say Tharoor won’t be on board if there were indeed a fair election.

One is often reminded of the classic line from BBC’s Yes Minister Christmas Special Party Games, in which Sir Humphrey trains Jim Hacker on what to say if someone asks him whether he harbours ambitions to become PM:

“Well, Minister, it's not my place, but on previous occasions, a generally acceptable answer has been "While one does not seek the office, one has pledged oneself to the service of one's country. And if one's friends were to persuade one that that was the best way one could serve, one might reluctantly have to accept the responsibility, whatever one's own private wishes might be.""

Replace country with Congress and office with Congress President and one can imagine a host of Congressman accepting the responsibility, for the greater good, to serve one’s country of course.

Jha’s salvo could be the first shot in the battle for Congress’ soul which could hold the key for a better Opposition, at the very least.

Nirmalya Dutta is The Web Editor of The Free Press Journal. The views expressed are personal.

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