The Congress party continues to be racked by arbitrary decision-making and the absence of accountability.
Aditi Phadnis reports.
Former Union minister of state and Congress’s in charge of West Bengal for the assembly elections, Jitin Prasada’s switch to the Bharatiya Janata Party has neither shaken nor stirred the Congress.
“He lost three elections in a row. In the last round, he lost his deposit. Still, the party gave him important responsibilities. (His exit is) no big deal,” said a Congress MP from Tamil Nadu.
But, he said, the party had bigger issues to worry about.
“Mukul Roy returned from the BJP to the Trinamool Congress because of a magnet. That magnet is Mamata Banerjee. Where is our magnet?” he asked.
Around this time the party was to hold elections to the post of party president (the original deadline was June 30).
Amid the Covid-19 crisis, the exercise was cancelled indefinitely after the Congress Working Committee put its seal of approval on the cancellation.
Thus, one of the central demands of the Group of 23, Congress leaders who want a leadership reshuffle, remains on the drafting table.
“What is badly needed is an elected CWC, not the nominated one in place at present,” said a former Union minister who is a member of G23.
“We never asked for a replacement of the president -- we just wanted a full time, visible leadership”.
The result is, the party is racked by arbitrary decision-making and the absence of accountability.
For instance, party sources say not a single head rolled after the party’s shocking debacle in the West Bengal elections.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury continues to be Pradesh Congress Committee chief and leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
In an interview, he said plainly that one reason for the Congress’s loss was the absence of the top leadership in the campaign:
“After two rallies, Rahul Gandhiji stopped coming to West Bengal because of the Covid situation," he said.
On the other hand, party leader and leader of the Opposition in the Kerala assembly Ramesh Chennithala complained that he was sacked from his position behind his back and “humiliated”, after the party replaced him with colleague V D Satheesan.
The Congress tally in the assembly came down in the recent elections.
But Chennithala was not the PCC chief, only leader of the Opposition.
He is considered a powerful and influential Congress leader who, in the current phase of Congress politics, enjoys the backing of his rival Oommen Chandy, who supported his claim that he continued as leader of the Opposition.
Party observers see in this the hand of Rahul Gandhi’s aide K C Venugopal, who is also from Kerala.
Worse is in the offing.
Almost exactly a year ago, then deputy chief minister of Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot, raised the banner of revolt against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and was on the verge of crossing over to the BJP, a move that would have toppled the Gehlot-led Congress government.
Only an assurance that his concerns, including accommodating his supporters in the council of ministers, prevented that situation.
Now, Pilot is in New Delhi, 10 months later, asking the party to fulfil the promises made to him.
Gehlot has nine cabinet vacancies to fill, and Pilot has reportedly asked for most of them.
The CM, on his part, has reportedly told party bosses that he cannot neglect Independent MLAs and others who supported him when Pilot revolted last year.
In other words, a repeat of July 2020 could be on the cards.
Gehlot believes those outside the party are more loyal to him than those in the party.
Pilot and his supporters are unable to accept this for obvious reasons.
"Pilot is a senior leader of Congress and there is no problem in the party. Party in charge of Rajasthan, Ajay Maken, has said that the Cabinet reshuffle will happen in the state soon,” Congress’s chief of Rajasthan Govind Singh Dotasara told Business Standard.
But in Delhi where he is camping since last week, Pilot said: “It has now been 10 months. I was given to understand that there would be swift action, but now half the term is done, and those issues haven't been resolved. Unfortunately, so many of the party workers who worked and gave their all for getting us the mandate are not being heard.”
The story in Punjab is similar.
Posters have appeared overnight in Amritsar, the home turf of dissident leader Navjot Singh Sidhu, who is seeking a leadership change in the state.
They rubbish Sidhu’s leadership claims.
“Punjab da ik hi Captain (Punjab has only one captain)” some posters say, with the hashtag “Captain for 2022”, referring to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
Another banner says “Captain ik hi hunda hai (there is only one captain)”.
Meanwhile, in Patiala, which is the chief minister’s area of influence, posters have come up at the behest of Sidhu supporters.
They say: “Sara Punjab Sidhu de naal (entire Punjab is with Sidhu)” and “Kisaana di awaaz mangda hai Punjab Guru di beadbi da hisab (Punjab, the voice of farmers wants accountability for desecration of the Guru, a reference to reports of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in the state).
The high command-appointed committee -- headed by leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, besides senior leader J P Aggarwal and general secretary in charge of Punjab Harish Rawat -- which was tasked with sorting out the leadership problems, .
The elections in Punjab are due in February/March next year.
“This is the situation in states where we are in power or have a presence,” said a G23 leader. “We need to think about where we’re headed”.