'Is Soniaji in Delhi? I don’t think she’s here ...'

Rahul seems impatient with Rajiv-Sonia-era politicians. On the other side, the party’s centrists have no patience for his electoral misadventures and experiments with leftism

Published: 01st October 2021 12:28 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st October 2021 12:28 AM   |  A+A-

Congress Crisis

Yes, crisis is a default state in the Congress. (Express Illustrations | Amit Bandre)

That’s coming from Bhupesh Baghel, Congress chief minister of Chhattisgarh. Harmless words of an everyday nature. But we can also read into that an import far beyond their immediate circumstances. Everyday? Yes, crisis is a default state in the Congress. After the shambolic chaos in Punjab, the Congress is also facing a power tussle in Chhattisgarh. It’s the same depressing story. Baghel’s in-house bete noire, T S Singh Deo, feels he too should have a go at power, as a rotational CM. Both sides have their MLAs cooped up in Delhi. Baghel does not know where the ‘interim’ Congress president is, but sounds quite confident. He has, after all, run his state without much of a glitch, and even anchored the Assam election campaign for the party—he may not have delivered a victory, but certainly stalled a wipeout.

Captain Amarinder Singh had no such credentials to flaunt. Neither did he help the Gandhi siblings in other state elections, nor did he quite defer to the ‘high command’ in any way. He differed with Rahul Gandhi’s position on most counts. (Recall the execrable ‘renovation’ of Jallianwala Bagh.) Throughout the debilitating second wave, Captain was incommunicado—for both the high command, including Sonia Gandhi, and the state party. Or so the story went. Stationed in his farmhouse, he met his high-level friends in Delhi media, and whoever else he felt he needed to meet … throw in doctors and health officials.

Forget that this was dodgy ethics, in terms of what’s expected of political leadership during a crisis. It was bad tactics. The ground shifted beneath his feet. His ouster was being scripted right there, in Delhi and Punjab. On home ground, his ‘popularity’ among the people and support among the MLAs were being questioned by a very ambitious Navjot Singh Sidhu. Captain was guilty of letting his martial instincts relax with the sense—fond hopes?—of an easy win in the coming Assembly polls.

Now 80, the Rajiv Gandhi-era politician maintains the regal aura of a Patiala maharaja. However, Rahul Gandhi seems impatient to bring about a fundamental change—a desire to subalternise the Congress. His understanding of the Congress role in the social, political and economic churn India is witnessing presently seems to be that of an enabling element, if not a harbinger. He apparently keeps repeating that, in the last 70 years, it’s the Congress that has steered all major course-corrections and brought radical changes in the polity—which may sound counter-intuitive if you look at its history as the ‘establishment’ party. It’s this thinking that led to him choosing Charanjit Singh Channi as the first Dalit chief minister of Punjab.

What Rahul, however, often fails to factor in when he considers the effects of what are ultimately top-down changes, is whether they can work and win a mandate. Plunging a state into a political crisis for the sake of an experimental change, that too just three months before an election, often achieves little or nothing. Those thoughts may have been activated, with way more deep-going effects, much before the Punjab Congress got trapped in a ‘Captain-Joker’ duopoly. But let us grant the honesty of the desire to bring change, even if at face value.

Tactically, of course, it may hand a shot in the arm for a rival who had no chance. A humiliated Captain may not join the BJP, but he could refloat his own party and later tie up with them. That will damage not just the mercurial Sidhu, or the Akalis, but also the Congress. If the prime minister does decide to roll back the farm laws, Captain will have no problem claiming credit for it, saying he brought about a historic change via his meeting with Amit Shah and Ajit Doval, and then get into an alliance. Even if Sidhu is successful in finding some traction for the 2015 Bargari sacrilege case, and pressurises Channi to remove top cops and the A-G, it would be a fight between two issues. That’s not counting the AAP, which is very much in the fight.

The irony is that a new Dalit CM has been burdened with so much. He has to deliver on many fronts in three months or face defeat in a state where the Congress had everything going for it. The irony is deepened when you consider that the Punjab crisis is a bigger rerun of what happened in Uttarakhand, where too the Congress had a fair chance. Now, former CM Harish Rawat is so busy firefighting in Punjab that he has nearly forgotten about his own state. Let’s not even get to Goa and Luizinho Faleiro, another former CM who has joined Mamata Banerjee’s TMC.

There’s a fundamental mismatch in political ethos at the centre of all this. Rahul clearly seems impatient with Rajiv-Sonia-era Congress politicians. That’s why he gladly takes the risk of getting in young, fire-breathing Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani. On the other side, the centrist career politicians of the Congress have no patience for Rahul’s electoral misadventures and experiments with social engineering or leftism. They make no bid to hide their exasperation on the Gandhi family’s procrastination on leadership. The national trend? CMs are the trendsetters. Stalin, with his political decorum; Naveen Patnaik, with his hockey patronage and disaster management; Mamata Banerjee, who wants to win India, not just Bhawanipur! The Congress is offering neither a solid Delhi face nor clarity in the states, with the young Gandhi siblings’ disinclination to let the CMs have their own way. That’s neither here, nor there.

Santwana Bhattacharya

Resident Editor, Karnataka, The New Indian Express



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