NEW DELHI: Still quite punch-drunk from the round thrashing it received in the recently held Lok Sabha elections, the Congress is trying to find its feet, but like a bleeding boxer, stumbling again in the process.
Recently, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had a mortifying experience that captured the dismal mood. She reported at 9.30 am in Parliament for a Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) meeting, but only to find no one had turned up. It was not really a mass disobedience, but just a miscommunication. The new young office-bearers had forgotten to inform 10 Janpath about a rescheduling of the meeting to 10 am. So, by the time senior worthies of the party’s slender stock of MPs started arriving, Sonia had to leave for a meeting already scheduled with President Pranab Mukherjee.
But for a moment, it must have seemed like mass insurrection to Sonia. And for a good reason. The Congress seems to be imploding across the country, with open dissension raising its head all across the map from Assam to Maharashtra. Even if one puts it to clerical error, the false spectre of absenteeism at the CPP meeting is, in a way, symptomatic of Sonia’s declining aura at a time of ill fortune. To add to it, in the Lok Sabha a portly figure from another Opposition party sat in Sonia’s allotted seat on the front bench. It was none other than Pappu Yadav, the RJD bahubali.
Fortunately, said a senior MP, Sonia was not in the House at that juncture, so the seat was technically empty. But the Congress members were shocked to see the casualness with which she was being treated now. Five months ago, someone like Pappu Yadav plonking himself on her seat in Parliament would have been inconceivable.
These are, of course, minor events with no real import except for the symbolic. The real haemorrhaging is happening in the states where, despite her repeated appeals, she has not been able to rein in infighting. Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam, Narayan Rane in Maharashtra and Chaudhary Birendra Singh in Haryana have all been in the news for refusing to take orders from the high command. Chaudhary Lal Singh of Udhampur, Jammu, took the next logical step -- the two-time MP resigned from the party because his constituency was given to Ghulam Nabi Azad. In Bengal, three Congress MLAs have joined the TMC. The only difference, the Congress watchers claimed, is that the “party has not split as it always did in the past after an electoral rout”.
While Sonia exerts herself all over again to quell the fire, at another level her political project has come a cropper. This was her vision of gradually allowing her son Rahul Gandhi’s imprint to take over: the electoral rout has prolonged it by five years at least. And the second-rung leaders, comprising the old guard, are using the current disarray to reclaim the space they once enjoyed from the coterie around Rahul -- essentially Madhusudan Mistry, Kanishk Singh, Mohan Prakash and K Raju -- opening up one more flank for debilitating battles. Not to mention Jairam Ramesh, who is said to be in search of a job.
The only place the party is looking up is, paradoxically, in Parliament even though the Leader of Opposition issue has been a cause for humiliation. Anand Sharma, Deputy Leader of the party in the Upper House, commenting on Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi’s advice to the Speaker against giving the post to the Congress, said: “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Given to please his political masters.”