‘Rashtriya Neta Kaun’: Congress crisis is much bigger than who will be new party chief

If I ought to point out what’s important malady that haunts the Congress party today, my answer will be like this – perhaps Rahul Gandhi and his Team believe that all they have to do is constantly attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP; and the country’s oldest party will return to the corridors of power.

However, the fact of the matter – and albeit bitter one is that – most sloganeering and campaigns against Modi have only backfired. While Modi remains invincible, the BJP is able to expand its support base merrily across India. The saffron party’s success in erstwhile communists citadels – Tripura and BJP ought to be attributed to these.

The BJP has gained acceptance in the north east India too where Congress always had a dominant presence. This is one area, the Congress needs to correct itself irrespective of the fact whether 23 ‘so called rebel leaders’ had merits in their decision to write that infamous letter to Sonia Gandhi or not.

Of course, there are other issues. In some cases, the Congress leaders have their personal agenda and as it is said – they have personal axe to grind.

Ghulam Nabi Azad for instance will retire from the Upper House of Parliament in February. There is whispering that Sonia-Rahul duo is all set to make Mallikarjun Kharge, a Dalit – but a Hindu – the new Leader of the Opposition. In December 2019, at one point Kharge was angry when quizzed about the possibility of him becoming a Dalit Congress Chief Minister in Karnataka.

The Congress leadership apparently believes making a Muslim ‘LoP’ in 2014 did not help the party much. This brings a vital question. Should Congress change its policies ; and tilt more to the right to embrace Hindutva ideology and make a calculated shift from appeasement of minorities ?

The ’23 dissidents’ – if they are gutsy enough to be called so – have all sorts of people. That includes Raj Babbar – the actor turned neta – but much overestimated both by the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.

Babbar is among the likes of former PCC chiefs Arvinder Singh Lovely (Delhi) and Kaul Singh Thakur (Himachal) to sign that supposed ‘dynamite’. Notably, Babbar’s stint in the Rajya Sabha as a member from Uttarakhand also ends on November 25, 2020.

Of course, senior Congress leader P L Punia, who is a Gandhi family loyalist from Uttar Pradesh, also retires in November this year.

Lot of Congress rebellion is certainly guided by Rajya Sabha-related politics. Anand Sharma is Deputy Leader of Opposition and in all probability when Kharge gets prominence, he too could lose his prominence. Both Anand Sharma and Ghulam Nabi Azad are from ‘Sanjay Gandhi school of politics’ but they could not corner Modi in the House of Elders to the extent it was expected.

Kharge’s flamboyant style in the Lok Sabha as Congress floor leader between 2014 and 2019 has perhaps impressed Sonia-Rahul.

But having said these, it ought to be pointed out that as many as 11 MPs from different parties will retire in November this year. Four others will retire in February 2021 and that includes Ghulam Nabi Azad.

In the absence of the state legislature in Jammu and Kashmir now, Azad is not sure when and how he will enter the Rajya Sabha yet again.

In April 2021; three members will be retiring from Kerala and they include P V Abdul Wahab of IUML, K K Ragesh from the CPI and also Congress veteran Vayalar Ravi.

Among those whose term in Rajya Sabha would end in November later this year are Ravi Prakash Verma, Ram Gopal Yadav, Chandrapal Singh Yadav (all Samajwadi Party), Veer Singh from BSP, Arun Singh of BJP, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Neeraj Shekhar (also BJP) from UP only.

Thus between November 2020 and April 2021 – 18 MPs will bid goodbye to the Upper House and there will be some surprises on cards – given BJP’s enthusiasm seen during all recent Rajya Sabha polls from Madhya Pradesh and other states. Therefore, the Congress ought to get its act together.

Some of these 23 dissidents could be in touch with the BJP or other parties to ensure the crucial ticket to the Rajya Sabha – an assured stint for six years.

RPI leader and Union Minister under Narendra Modi – Ramdas Athawale has already said leaders like Kapil Sibal and Ghulam Nabi Azad should come out of the Congress if they are feeling disgruntled and suffocated.

Of course, the Congress rebels have rejected such conjectures. But, there can be little dispute that challenges for Congress is only increasing manifold.

The Congress likes to return to power but mostly they want the government of the day to lose. The Congress has hardly snatched victory be it post-Emergency or 2004 when the BJP’s ‘India Shining’ campaign had actually boomeranged. Of course, Gujarat riots of 2002 was another factor. The grand old party has always stayed away from a roadmap which is guided by the philosophy that a desperate situation calls for drastic remedies.

Even in March-April 2020 during Lockdown, the Congress approach was simply attack the BJP and PM Modi in particular for the sufferings of migrant workers. Instead, the Congress should have helped the people on the streets and make use of Congress government(s) apparatus in Punjab and Rajasthan.

The presence of its top leaders – Rahul Gandhi himself – shoulder to shoulder to CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury in JNU campus in 2015 was totally uncalled for.

This singular factor could have possibly isolated Congress from the youths. The ‘azadi’ slogan in university campuses suits Marxists and other Left parties, but it does not go well for a party like Congress which fought for India’s liberation and which till the other day was seen as a strong proponent of the ‘nationalistic politics’.

How does a Congressman justify the slogan – “Hum mangey Azadi….Manipur maangey Azadi”?

About the Author:

Nirendra Dev is senior Journalist. He is a longtime northeast watcher and author of books including ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’.