The Congress in Haryana faces an uphill battle in the Assembly elections on October 21. Rampant factionalism in the state culminated in the resignation of former state party chief Ashok Tanwar from the primary membership of the party.
Tanwar is not alone in revolting against the party leadership. In Maharashtra too, which is all set for polls, heavyweights like Sanjay Nirupam are on the warpath over distribution of party tickets.
The Congress ‘old guard’s’ fear of being edged out of elusive power by the young is manifesting itself in the latter being increasingly hounded and marginalised as power transitions from Rahul Gandhi to his mother Sonia who leans on the shoulders of senior partymen who stood by her in her halcyon years.
Tanwar, who quit the party recently, had been sulking right since he was replaced as state chief by Kumari Selja, with much of the electoral responsibility entrusted with the old warhorse Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Tanwar, who had been appointed with much ado by Rahul in 2014 when the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family held sway, had made no bones about his displeasure. After he held a rally outside Sonia’s residence, there was a last-minute attempt to appease him by entrusting him with the charge of leading the Congress campaign in Haryana, but it was too little and too late.
Tanwar’s resolve to quit had already been made. He was convinced that real power would lie in the hands of his bête noire Hooda, regardless of what pretences the high command may make.
It is indeed becoming increasingly clear that even though central party power has been rotating between Sonia and Rahul, the grip of the Nehru-Gandhi clan on the party is loosening with the successive electoral reverses. Yet, such is the subservience to the family that those still in the party do not dare to speak up against them in public.
The old guard, which passively acquiesced in the replacement of some leaders with the younger elements when Rahul was ruling the roost, fearing the wrath of the mother-son duo, is now somewhat emboldened. The process of sidelining the young is borne out by how Sachin Pilot had to make way for Ashok Gehlot and Jyotiraditya Scindia for Kamal Nath as chief ministers of their respective states Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Other Rahul loyals like Milind Deora saw a clear drop in their clout.
As Tanwar realised in the manner in which Hooda bounced back cornering overweening power over party affairs in the state, there was a conscious move to push the young aside. His statement before the media at the time of his resignation makes his frustration amply clear.
Former Tripura Congress chief Pradyot Debbarman, who preceded Tanwar in taking on the current Congress establishment, had warned a week ago that those people in the party who were loyal to Rahul were being set aside by older leaders.
He complained that since Rahul stepped away from the presidential post of the Congress, there had been a change in attitude towards younger leaders appointed by him. Many others did not say so, but there has been an air of uncertainty over the future of the younger leaders.
If more Congress leaders have not left the party to join the BJP, it is because the BJP high command is wary of how its own loyal leaders would react. In Haryana’s case, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has been bold to say Tanwar would not be accommodated in the BJP. Whether there would be a change of heart due to compulsions of expediency is, however, another matter.
It is also in the realm of speculation that whether the war between the old and the new in the Congress would intensify or there would be a reconciliation.
There is indeed a possibility that the Congress may split when differences grow. Congressmen in general are too prone to hankering for power to let go of a seeming opportunity to stage a comeback. Many of them are engaged in trying to work out side deals, especially because the party leadership has shown poor ability to enthuse the cadres.
In the upcoming Assembly polls, the picture looks bleak for the Congress with its cadres demoralised and its leadership in disarray. The consequent gainer would be the BJP, which is set to gain by default.Kamlendra Kanwar is a senior journalist. Views are personal.