Rajat Sharma

Congress electoral debacle: Time for collective decision making

akb full_frame_74900Dissident leaders of Congress party, said to be part of G-23 (Group of 23) on Wednesday night met in Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Delhi residence, and demanded that there should be “collective and inclusive decision-making” in the party to overcome the present crisis caused by the dismal show of the party in the five state assembly elections.

A statement was issued after the meeting, which read: “We, the following members of Congress party met to deliberate on the demoralising outcome of the recent results of Assembly elections and the constant exodus of both our workers and leaders. We believe that the only way forward for the Congress is to adopt the model of collective and inclusive leadership and decision making at all levels. In order to oppose the BJP, it is necessary to strengthen the Congress party. We demand the Congress party to initiate dialogue with other like-minded forces to create a platform to pave the way for a credible alternative to 2024. The next steps in this regard will be announced soon.”

The statement was signed by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Prithviraj Chavan, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Raj Babbar, Shanker Singh Vaghela, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Shashi Tharoor, P. J. Kurien, M.A. Khan, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Sandeep Dixit, Kuldeep Sharma, Vivek Tankha and Preneet Kaur. Among them, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Shashi Tharoor had been loyalists of Gandhi family for decades, but have now joined the dissident camp.

I am amazed at the infinite patience of senior Congress leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal and Bhupendra Singh Hooda, who despite recurring electoral defeats faced by the party, have not yet revolted against the leadership. These veteran leaders have been witness to the exodus of leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia, R. P. N. Singh, Capt. Amarinder Singh and Jitin Prasad from the party, and yet, they are still hopeful about the Congress becoming strong again.

These senior leaders also know that it matters the least to Sonia Gandhi what these dissident leaders say or do not say in public. She has already made up her mind to hand over the mantle of leadership to her son Rahul Gandhi and anoint him as the next party president. Neither Sonia nor Rahul and Priyanka believe that the party lost the assembly elections because of the family.

At the Congress Working Committee meeting, Sonia Gandhi had said, she and her family were “ready to make any sacrifice” to strengthen the party, but, as has become routine, the CWC, after nearly five hours of deliberations, reaffirmed its faith in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, and admitted there were “shortcomings in strategy”. It was decided to hold another ‘chintan shivir’ (introspection camp) after the Budget session. The CWC authorized Sonia Gandhi to make “comprehensive organisational changes to meet political changes.” A day later, Sonia Gandhi sought the resignations of PCC chiefs of all five states which went to elections.

Already the gloves are off and the blame game has begun among Congress leaders. Former Punjab PCC chief Sunil Jakhar said, former CM Charanjit Singh Channi “was a liability whose greed pulled the party down. Without naming Ambika Soni, Jakhar tweeted: “An asset – r u joking? Thank God, he wasn’t declared a national treasure at CWC by the ‘Pbi’ lady who proposed him as CM in first place. May be an asset for her but for the party he has only been a liability, but his own greed pulled him and the party down.” Jakhar posted a photograph of Channi with his tweet, which read, “ED seizes Rs 10 crore from Channi’s nephew, CM cries foul”.

In Uttarakhand, a Congress leader Ranjeet Rawat alleged that the party’s chief ministerial face Harish Rawat took money from ticket aspirants and now they are searching for him to get their money back. Harish Rawat promptly responded, by asking the party high command to expel him. Harish Rawat tweeted: “Accusations of selling tickets and posts are very serious, and if those are being made against a person, who has been a chief minister, regional party chief, general secretary of the party and member of Congress working committee, then he should be expelled.”

The problem with the Congress leadership is that it becomes very touchy if any one questions the leadership capability of Sonia or Rahul Gandhi. Such leaders are promptly labelled as ‘BJP agent’ or ‘anti-party’. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal had in a recent interview said, “Today at least I want ‘sab ki Congress’, but there are some others who want a ‘ghar ki Congress’. I certainly don’t want a ‘ghar ki Congress’. I will fight for a ‘sab ki Congress’ till my last breath.”

Soon after, other leaders like Mallikarjun Khadge, Adhir Ranjan Choudhury and Ashok Gehlot lashed out at Sibal. But one must realize that leaders like Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Shanker Singh Vaghela and P. J. Kurien are experienced leaders and they know when to make a move. Naturally, the Congress leadership was worried when the meeting of G-23 leaders took place on Wednesday night.

When leaders like Mallikarjuna Kharge say that the resignations from 5 PCC chiefs were taken to find out the weaknesses in the party, there are questions being raised, like Rahul Gandhi is one of the major weakness of the party, why is his accountability not being fixed? One can understand that the party lost in Punjab due to infighting between Channi and Navjot Singh Sidhu, but who promoted Sidhu in the first place? Both Rahul and Priyanka used Navjot Sidhu as a weapon in order to dislodge Capt. Amarinder Singh, and now that the debacle has happened, they are following a “use and throw” policy to discard Sidhu.

I can understand Sidhu’s resignation, but what about UP Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu? He was PCC chief in name only, and the entire party machinery was reporting to Priyanka Gandhi. Similarly, Uttarakhand PCC chief Ganesh Godiyal had to resign, but it was Harish Rawat who was running the show in the state as the chief ministerial face.

To put it bluntly: Congress leadership is trying to make the PCC chiefs as scapegoats (bali ka bakraa). People are now openly asking, who brought Sidhu as PCC chief, and who decided to project Channi as the chief ministerial place instead of Sidhu? Who entrusted all responsibility in Uttarakhand to Harish Rawat? Was the party command in UP in the hands of Ajay Kumar Lallu or Priyanka Gandhi?

These are tough questions which the Gandhi family, in charge of Congress high command, will have to face. The sooner, the better.

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