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Last Updated : Oct 10, 2019 02:03 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Team Rahul 'missing in action' ahead of Assembly elections. What does it mean for Congress?

In the upcoming Assembly polls, the picture looks bleak for the Congress with its cadres demoralised and its leadership in disarray.

Aakriti Handa @aakriti_handa

After facing an injurious defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress is battling an existential crisis.

The Grand Old Party's reputation, its ideology, and its standing on various issues are being questioned – not only by the ruling BJP, but also by its followers, supporters and even senior members.

After the debacle in the general elections, Rahul Gandhi quit as the party president taking full responsibility of the loss. In his resignation letter, he had said, "As President of the Congress party, I am responsible for the loss of the 2019 election. Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress President."

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His resignation prompted a domino effect in various rungs of the party, which was especially pronounced among his supporters, who begged Rahul to take charge. But this time, Rahul was adamant.

After Rahul's resignation, Mumbai Congress Chief Milind Deora and party General Secretary from  Uttar Pradesh (West) Jyotiraditya Scindia resigned from their posts, taking moral responsibility of the party's performance in the Lok Sabha elections. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath also quit as MPCC president.

What followed was weeks of chaos and confusion, which ultimately led to a leadership vacuum in the party. On August 11, Sonia Gandhi was appointed the party's interim president almost 20 months after making way for her son Rahul in December 2017.

A credible testimony to the Congress’ hapless situation was when senior leader Salman Khurshid told the media, “We haven't really got together to analyse why we got defeated. Our biggest problem is our leader has walked away. It kind of left a vacuum.”

"Sonia Gandhi stepped in, but there is more than an indication that she is treating herself as a stop-gap arrangement. I wish it wasn’t so," he added.

However, with a couple of months left for Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly Elections, the troubles for the party had just begun.

Rahul’s fallen soldiers

Ahead of the state polls, most of Rahul Gandhi’s appointees have fallen by the wayside or have quit. These include Ashok Tanwar, who was earlier removed as chief of Haryana Congress, after Bhupinder Hooda threatened to start his own party. A disgruntled Tanwar recently quit the party saying, "Congress is going through existential crises, not because of its political opponents but because of serious internal contradiction.”

Other names include Sanjay Nirupam and Milind Deora (Mumbai Congress), Navjot Singh Sidhu (Punjab), Aditi Singh (UP) and Pradyot Debbarman (Tripura), who were all promoted out of turn.

Both Debbarman and Ajay Kumar have resigned as president of Congress’ Tripura and Jharkhand units respectively, citing differences with party high command and infighting.

Tanwar, Nirupam and Debberman have openly lamented that “Rahul loyalists are being sidelined” after he quit as party president, and that a section of the old guard is “trying to reimpose their point of view”.

Aditi Singh, who is an MLA from Rae Bareli, skipped Priyanka Gandhi’s march to attend a 48-hour-long special session called by the Yogi Adityanath government to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. She was served a show cause notice by the Congress for going against the party line.

Rahul MIA

While the “sidelining” of Rahul’s loyalists by Sonia's coterie has accentuated the infighting in the party, it is Rahul’s indifference that is stinging the members.

Experts have observed that the Gandhi scion seems to be doing nothing – directly or indirectly – to protest against such ousters or exits. It was also visible that despite many leaders, including Captain Amarinder Singh, Karan Singh and Milind Deora, openly pitching for a “young and charismatic leader” as Congress President, Rahul did not exercise his right to recommend a young leader as his successor.

Meanwhile, a defeatist Rahul is seen drifting into oblivion, taking trips first to the US and recently to Cambodia weeks before the D-day. Rahul’s absence was conspicuous last week, when a delegation of Congress leaders met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at a Delhi hotel. While the delegation included former PM Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Anand Sharma and Priyanka Gandhi, among others, Rahul, who has been a permanent feature in such diplomatic meetings, was not present.

Rahul has also been staying away from party meetings and deliberations. Although the Congress has listed him as the star campaigner, Rahul will reportedly be campaigning only for two days in Maharashtra.

In fact, the BJP is already using his absence as fodder against the party. On October 9, outgoing Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis at a rally in Ner in Dhule district said, "He knows they are going to lose anyway, so why take the blame for defeat? He is not ready to come here."

Not just old vs young

While the young horses of the party have been brazenly criticizing the old guard, the tussle is not just restricted to that.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Jyotiraditya Scindia-Umang Singhar duo was seen targeting Kamal Nath and Digivijaya Singh. But the fight fizzled out after Digvijaya’s brother Laxman Singh openly said Rahul Gandhi “must apologise” for making an unrealistic loan waiver promise to the farmers of the state.

Similarly, the discourse in Rajasthan has progressed from ‘whether Sachin Pilot will replace Ashok Gehlot as chief minister’, to ‘whether Pilot can retain the post of Rajasthan Congress chief or will he be saddled with one more deputy chief minister’.

On the issue, a Congress veteran told The Times of India, “Seeing the tussle as a young vs old fight would be erroneous as politics is always a craft of survival of the fittest, between those who have staying prowess for surviving and consolidating and those who lack them despite decorated with designations.”

It is to be noted here that even though Tanwar and Nirupam have alleged injustice they have had unusually long tenures as PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) chiefs – five years and four years respectively – yet they have failed to consolidate like Hooda or Gurudas Kamath.

The old guard, Congress leaders now in their 60’s and 70’s – have risen through the ranks from the party’s student wings, such as NSUI and IYC. Belonging to the Indira Gandhi-Sanjay Gandhi school, they fought against the Janata, VP Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee regimes to consolidate their positions.

On the other hand, the young leaders appointed by Rahul Gandhi came to politics after exploring other career options or as inheritors, thus lacking the experience of the old guard.

If the tussle between the old and the new in the Congress would intensify or would there be reconciliation, is now in the realm of speculation.

There is indeed a possibility that the Congress may split when differences grow. Congressmen in general are too prone to hankering for power and staging 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.

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First Published on Oct 10, 2019 02:03 pm
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