Is the Congress going to seed?

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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The year 2022 would be one of the most crucial for the survival or revival of the Congress party.

THE WAY the Congress leadership blundered its way through the recent chain of political events in Punjab is indeed mind boggling. It reflected the political immaturity with which the developments were handled.

Congress

If the leadership was keen to get rid of Capt Amarinder Singh as the chief minister, it could have asked him to step down. As per him, he had offered to do so a couple of months ago but the interim president of the party Sonia Gandhi had asked him to stay back.

However the Gandhi siblings, Priyanka and Rahul, were trying to assert and make their first major political move.

The appointment of cricketer cum comedy show star cum politician, Navjot Singh Sidhu, a beta noire of Capt Amarinder Singh, in the teeth of opposition from the later, was a move fraught with dangers. That’s what happened when the two war horses of the party started pulling in different directions.

Ultimately when Capt Amarinder Singh was asked to leave in a humiliating way, the party had no succession plan.

Evidently the first name to succeed the veteran chief minister was Ambika Soni! While it showed the mental bankruptcy of the ‘leadership’ it also exposed the fact that the Gandhi siblings, who were orchestrating the move, had no clue about a succession plan.

So they explored the idea of having Sunil Jakhar but there were apprehensions because he was a Hindu. Then they thought of Sukhjinder Randhawa but Sidhu threw a fit and finally they settled for Charanjit Singh Channi.

They then patted themselves for selecting a Dalit to be the first such chief minister of Punjab and patted themselves on then back for such a master stroke.

congress

The bumbling Congress incharge of Punjab, Harish Rawat, added to the mess by declaring that Sidhu would be the face of the party even as the party had propped up a Dalit face to contest the elections. The party high command sought to douse the fire by stating that both would be the face of Congress.

It is more than evident now that Sidhu bulldozed his way and bullied the Gandhi siblings to have his way. He is now trying to run the government and it remains to be seen how much rope would Channi give him.

The Congress party, and particularly Sidhu, face another challenge from Capt Amarinder Singh who has declared that “we would put a very strong candidate” against Sidhu. Evidently he is seeking to float a regional party or to join hands with another political outfit.

Congress
Courtesy: Sandeep Adhvaryu, TOI

Over all the party has made a mess of its handling the political situation in Punjab. With only three states remaining in its kitty, what role can it expect to play in national politics. Yet, given the plurality of politics in the country, it has a responsibility towards the country.

There are nearly 200 Lok Sabha constituencies where the Bharatiya Janata Party and its alliance partners are directly in contest with the Congress. The outcome of elections in these constituencies goes a long way in deciding who would rule the country for the next five years.

It is, therefore, important for everyone concerned, including the voters, to keep a close watch on the developments within the party. After its victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, it has been on a declining mode except for victory in a couple of states. Since its second defeat at the hands of Modi led NDA, the party has been in a free fall mode.

Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi with his two deputies, OP Soni and S S Randhawa

Its president Rahul Gandhi went into a sulk and resigned from his post. His mother Sonia Gandhi had to take the mantle as the “working president” till a replacement was found. The party never found one and evidently the Gandhi family too was not keen for any person of caliber to take on the mantle.

The grand old party did not come into action even after the Group of 23 senior party leaders sought elections and called for the revival of the party. Most of the other leaders refused to join hands and the party remained in a state of inertia.

It is well known that Sonia Gandhi was highly dependent on the advise rendered to her by Ahmed Patel who passed away in November last year. He was instrumental in all the important decisions taken by the party and was also a go between among warring party leaders. His passing away had led the party rudderless.

The political developments on Punjab were the first major political issue after his passing away. It was also the first time that the younger Gandhis – Priyanka and Rahul – had sought to assert themselves.

The assertion of the younger Gandhis is now expected to cast its shadow on the two remaining congress ruled states of Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. There is trouble brewing in both the states.

Congress

In Rajasthan the young leader Sachin Pilot has been waiting in the wings and his supporters might be delighted with the developments in Punjab including the installation of a comparatively younger chief minister.

In Chattisgarh too the dispute over change in leadership of the state would test the party high command.

But what is more at stake is the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh. Congress which had ruled the largest state of the country for several decades is now reduced to a non-entity. For its own revival it shall have to put up a comparatively better show in the state.

No one expects Congress to come any where close to victory but what would be keenly watched would be its choices and alliances it makes in the state.

With Sonia Gandhi appearing to have taken a back seat, the onus would be on her children to prove their mettle. The year 2022, which would witness Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Goa would be one of the most crucial for the survival or revival of the Congress party.

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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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