The party leadership knew that Pilot was working to split the Congress but did nothing to mollify him. This smacks of arrogance
Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal tweeted on July 12: “Worried about our party. Will we wake up only after the horses have bolted from our stables?” Sibal’s statement depicts the despondent mood in the Congress Party.
Indeed, this is the question many senior Congress leaders are asking, as they helplessly watch the drama unfolding in Rajasthan. Even though it looks as if Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot might manage to avert the present crisis but there is a big question mark on the survival of the Congress Party itself. With such a fragile majority, Gehlot will not find it easy to keep the flock together for long, even if he manages to win the trust vote for now.
The party should have expected the blow from Sachin Pilot. The crisis — three months after the Congress lost a charismatic leader like Jyotiraditya Scindia and also the hard-won State of Madhya Pradesh to the BJP — was not unexpected. In fact, insiders say that Pilot was planning to do a Scindia in March itself. But because of the outbreak of the Coronavirus, he deferred his departure.
The fact is that the party loses a State even after winning it because of the internal power struggle between the “old guard” and the “young Turks.” It has not been able to nip this unhealthy rivalry in its camps nor has it been able to strike a balance between the experience of the older generation and the aspirations of the younger lot, who want to make their mark and come out of the shadows of the senior leadership.
No doubt, this “head in the sand” approach is not going to help as the party had missed many wake-up calls in the last six years, after it lost both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, as well as some Congress-ruled States like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
A big party like the Congress, which ruled most of the States in the past, must learn lessons from the ongoing crisis and use them to prevent such situations from recurring in the future. The Congress leadership should introspect about what is going wrong within the party and how to fix it.
The party must also address the leadership vacuum at the top. Since August 2019, Sonia Gandhi has been in the saddle and she had weathered many crises earlier. But today, she is unable to assert herself. Though Rahul Gandhi has quit his presidency, the Congress scion continues to take most of the decisions, be it on appointments, transfers or policy matters. Hence, there is a difference of opinion on almost every issue between the “old guard” loyal to Sonia and the “young Turks” who are in Rahul’s team. This situation is not good for either camp as nothing gets done in the party.
Even in the present crisis, it is Rahul’s team members like Randeep Surjewala who are camping in Jaipur. The party leadership knew that Pilot was working to split the Congress but did nothing to mollify him. After all, Pilot is said to be close to Rahul, so they could have worked something out. But nothing was done to bridge the growing chasm. This smacks of arrogance or a lack of understanding of the growing frustration of the young leaders within the party, forced to take a back seat despite their obvious talents.
The Congress leadership should set its house right and run a tight ship. Right now there is factionalism, indiscipline and nepotism. All sorts of ills are dogging the party. The workers are confused and fear that the present strategy of letting status quo prevail is spelling doom for them all. The party lacks direction, idealism, strategy and a new narrative. Unless these issues are settled and shortcomings are rectified, the desertions will continue.
One might ask how Sonia managed to arrest the erosion when she entered politics in 1998. She not only provided leadership but also brought the party to power not once but twice in 2004 and 2009. But now, after more than a decade things have changed. She brought her son to head the Congress but the mother and son did not concentrate on building up the party or nurturing bright, young leaders.
No doubt the Congress was able to win Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan but the party was not able to hold on to these States. With the result it has already lost Madhya Pradesh and is in the process of losing Rajasthan — all mainly due to internal indiscipline and an unending power struggle. There is a power struggle going on in Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, too. If this is not checked, more States like Chhattisgarh might follow Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. There is likely to be more erosion as other younger leaders like Milind Deora and Jitin Prasada might do a Scindia.
Rahul is expected to come back as party chief soon and if he fails to understand the aspirations of the younger leaders and apprehensions of the “old guard”, the present crisis in the party will exacerbate further.
The Congress should also introspect why it is not able to unite the Opposition. None of the other parties have come out in its support during the present crisis in Rajasthan.
On the contrary, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati has lashed out at Gehlot and the party for weaning away six BSP MLAs from Rajasthan and merging them with the Congress. She has threatened to take the fight against the party to the Supreme Court.
Notwithstanding all these setbacks, there is still hope for the Congress if its leadership learns lessons from the crisis and sets its house in order before it is too late.
(The writer is a senior journalist)