NEW DELHI: The Congress is facing an existential crisis like never before.
The grand old party, which governed the country for decades, is today confined to just three states on the political map of India. What’s worse, even in these three states, the party is on the tenterhooks.
The Congress faces leadership tussle in Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh … the three states where the party is in power on its own.
Ironically, the greatest threat to the Congress today is not from the BJP, which had declared to work for a Congress-mukt Bharat. The biggest challenge that the party faces now is the battle within.
State after state, the script is the same – a Congress versus Congress battle that threatens the very existence of the grand old party.
It is a trend that has been in the making for quite some time now and which the present leadership has clearly failed to handle – at least, so far.
Possibly, the party’s defeats in successive Lok Sabha elections and also several key assembly elections have contributed to the eroding fortunes of the leadership.
The fact that Congress does not have a full-time president now for two years also adds to the perception of ad hocism in the party.
Here’s a look at how the Congress, which is trying to emerge as a national alternative to the BJP, is losing the plot in many states.
Punjab, which goes to assembly polls next year, had overwhelmingly voted for the Congress in 2017. The party won 77 assembly seats with a vote share of 38.5%.
Captain Amarinder Singh led the party to power and was made the chief minister. He was, till some months ago, the undisputed leader of the Congress in Punjab.
However, the emergence of Navjot Singh Sidhu, who joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 elections, as a rival power centre sowed the seeds of leadership tussle in the state Congress.
Sidhu’s appeal as a former cricketer and his stint with a popular comedy show made him an instant crowd puller for the Congress in the state.
When Amarinder changed his portfolio, Sidhu rebelled and quit the state cabinet. He was eventually made the state Congress chief with a strong backing of the Congress high command and against the wishes of Captain Amarinder Singh.
Congress has announced that Amarinder will lead the party in the upcoming assembly elections. However, Sidhu has been piling pressure on the chief minister to deliver the promises made in the party manifesto.
The Congress has managed a truce between the two regional heavyweights, but this truce is uneasy and may impact the party’s poll prospects in the state.
Two and a half years (half tenure) into power, it was time for the Congress in Chhattisgarh to evaluate the performance of its Bhupesh Baghel led government in the state.
Afterall, the people of Chhattisgarh had voted in large numbers for the party. Congress had won 68 of the 90 seats in the assembly in 2018 with a vote share of 40.02% as it decimated the BJP, which was reduced to 15 seats with a vote share of around 33 per cent.
But that was not to be.
Instead, the mid-way mark heralded the beginning of a leadership tussle in the state.
Supporters of senior Congress leader and minister T S Singh Deo, who was the head of the manifesto committee in 2018 assembly elections, have raised the issue of rotational leadership to seek a change of guard in the state.
Though Congress never talked about the two-and-a-half-year formula in Chhattisgarh, the supporters of Deo claim that this was promised.
Both the leaders have made several trips to Delhi with their supporters as the Congress leadership tries to find a way out of this crisis.
Ashok Gehlot, the old Congress war horse in Rajasthan, successfully warded off challenge to his leadership by Sachin Pilot last year. But the crisis in the state unit is far from over.
Led by Priyanka Gandhi, the Congress managed to convince and retain Pilot, who as the Rajasthan unit chief had played a key role in the party’s victory in the assembly elections.
But the Congress is yet to implement the promises it made to Pilot as a part of the truce. Pilot’s supporters keep on reminding the party leadership about the unkept promises.
Ashok Gehlot, who took a very aggressive stand against Pilot during the crisis, has made it evident that he is not ready to cede any space to his rival in the state unit.
With a substantial number of MLAs backing Gehlot, it will not be easy for the Congress to find a solution to this pestering crisis.
Madhya Pradesh is a classic example of how leadership tussle in states can harm the political prospects of the Congress.
The Congress lost the state to the BJP because it could not manage party infighting.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, who was considered close to Rahul Gandhi, was upset at being sidelined by senior state leaders Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh.
As the Congress leadership failed to find a solution, Scindia eventually walked away with MLAs supporting him and ensured the fall of Kamal Nath government. This paved the way for the BJP to return to power in the state.
This was a crisis waiting to happen and showed the inability of the party leadership to foresee and prevent a rebellion.
Now, let’s rewind a bit and look at Assam, where the Congress lost the opportunity to return to power in the recently concluded assembly elections.
Ironically, the man responsible for dislodging the Congress in Assam in 2016 and defeating it again in 2021 is Himanta Biswa Sarma, a former Congressman himself.
He left the Congress in 2015 after the party leadership could not manage his growing differences with the then chief minister Tarun Gogoi.
Himanta joined the BJP and scripted the party’s victory in the 2016 assembly election. As the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance, he ensured the spread of BJP in other northeast states at the expense of the Congress.
Clearly, the Congress’s loss was BJP’s gain in the northeast.
To add to its woes, the Congress recently lost another senior leader of the state to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.
Sushmita Dev, daughter of veteran Congress leader Santosh Mohan Dev and a former MP, surprised everyone with a sudden and swift exit from the party.
Kerala was a state that the Congress would have hoped to win in the last assembly elections.
There were two strong reasons for this optimism.
First the state for long had a tradition of alternating power between the Left Democratic Front and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). Hence, after 5 years of LDF rule, UDF was hoping to get a mandate to govern the state.
Second, this was the state adopted by former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who is an MP from Wayanad.
However, the Congress failed to win the state. And if that was not enough of a setback, there is an ugly infighting playing out in the state unit as well.
The party’s secretary in the state PS Prasanth has been expelled as he accused senior leader KC Venugopal, who is the national general secretary (organisation), of being an agent of the BJP.
Clearly, this does not augur well for the party in the state.
The only southern state which has a BJP government was once a strong Congress bastion.
However, the power tussle between new state Congress president D K Shiv Kumar and former chief minister Siddaramaiah should be a cause for concern for the party in the state.
With Yediyurappa out of the picture, corruption as a poll issue will not help the Congress anymore in the state.
It is important for the Congress to put up a united front if it wants to challenge the BJP in Karnataka.
NEW DELHI: The Congress is facing an existential crisis like never before.