Chaos at the top

Print edition : April 10, 2020

At a public meeting in Bhopal in February 2019, Rahul Gandhi, then the Congress president, flanked by Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

Jyotiraditya Scindia’s parting of ways with the Congress is symptomatic of much that is wrong with the grand old party at the national level. That Scindia did not get along with the Kamal Nath dispensation was no secret. The Congress leadership turned out singularly inadequate in handling the situation.

Party insiders blame Rahul Gandhi’s penchant for back-seat driving for the chaos that marks the party’s functioning. A senior Congress leader who has been close to Sonia Gandhi said: “Rahul wants to control everything from behind, without coming forward and taking full responsibility. He likes to wield control and does not even listen to Soniaji.” Senior leaders say that this tug of war between mother and son is proving detrimental to the party.

It is well known that Scindia was close to Rahul Gandhi. But once Rahul Gandhi resigned after the Congress’ Lok Sabha debacle in 2019, Scindia found himself alienated in the party. Sidelined by the Kamal Nath dispensation in his home State, the ambitious young leader not unexpectedly looked for greener pastures beyond the Congress.

There have been rumblings from other Congress leaders elsewhere in the country—Milind Deora, Sanjay Nirupam, Sachin Pilot. After the crisis in Madhya Pradesh, Sanjay Nirupam said it was time for Rahul Gandhi to come forward and take full control of the party with a completely new team.

In Rajasthan, there are problems between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, though things have not reached a breaking point there.

P.L. Punia, a senior Congress leader, said: “There is no doubt that the crisis in Madhya Pradesh is a failure of leadership at all levels, both at the State and at the national level. It is unfortunate that a State which we won displacing the BJP after 15 years of its misrule, we could not hold for even 15 months.”

But he felt that it was primarily for the State leadership to take corrective measures in time. “I think the top leadership can advise, direct and order, which it did, at least three times in the last few months, but eventually it is for the State leadership to take action. If they refuse to do so, what can the top leadership do?”

But other senior leaders point to the confusion at the top. “Soniaji is president, but Rahul Gandhi is running the show from behind. He does not listen to her, he does not reach out to senior leaders in times of crisis, and neither does he have a team that can manage conflict among senior leaders. There is complete chaos at the top. Priyankaji also has stopped interfering between them, she busies herself with Uttar Pradesh, in which Rahul does not interfere at all. That is the situation and nobody can do anything about it,” a senior leader said.

Asked why Rahul Gandhi does not take full control of the party, another leader said: “Having taken a moral high ground once, perhaps he finds it difficult to backtrack.” The dilemma, meanwhile, is costing the party dear. With elections due in Bihar soon, this state of things has Congress workers worried. Lack of cohesion and planning at the top has already cost the Congress dear in the Delhi election.

Delhi disaster

The party appointed as its campaign in-charge in Delhi Kirti Azad, who lost his deposit in the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Dhanbad in Jharkhand and had been out of Delhi’s political scene for a long time. His wife was a candidate and could muster only 2.6 per cent of the votes.

The party’s failure at all levels was reflected in its tally of zero for the second consecutive time. Its vote percentage plummeted from 9.7 per cent in 2015 to an all-time low of 4.25 per cent in 2020. In 63 of the 66 seats that the Congress contested, its candidates lost their deposits.

A top leader said: “There is no honest conversation happening at the top level now. The top leadership should sit with State leaders and have open and honest talks. Instead, we see sycophants sing paeans at these meetings, and nothing substantial comes out.” This lack of honest conversation leads to wrong decisions being taken, further damaging the party.

 

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