Regional satraps may hold sway in Congress

They can dictate terms in the party as the Gandhi family’s influence weakens

June 13, 2020 12:59 pm | Updated 03:51 pm IST

CM Amarinder Singh

CM Amarinder Singh

Just when the Congress launched the Speak Up India campaign, urging citizens to take to social media platforms and point out the Centre’s COVID-19 management failures, one of the national spokespersons of the party started the Speak Up Congress campaign.

Mumbai-based former banker-turned-spokesperson Sanjay Jha, while recovering from COVID-19 himself, offered a prognosis for his party.

In an opinion piece in a leading newspaper, Mr. Jha predicted the Congress’ political obsolescence because of its “extraordinary lassitude and lackadaisical attitude”.

“If a publicly listed company has even one bad quarter in corporate earnings, it is subjected to a brutal examination from analysts, with no one spared, particularly the CEO and the board,” Mr. Jha wrote, dissecting the situation in his party like a surgeon’s scalpel.

Many privately agreed with Mr. Jha but refused to publicly endorse it, except former Lok Sabha member Sandeep Dikshit, who blamed senior party leaders for refusing to change the ‘status quo’.

“Article Sanjay Jha reflects the low morale of #Congress workers. It is high time @RahulGandhi gets back as President, revamps the party and appoints a new leader in the Lok Sabha. @ShashiTharoor /@ManishTewari is the choice of public,” tweeted Praveen Davar, a former Army officer who earlier headed the Ex-servicemen wing of the Congress party.

Several suggestions, most notably from Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor, to have an elected party president have been met with silence.

Though the exit of Jyotiraditya Scindia, mainly because of marginalisation by former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, was meant to be a wake-up call and the Congress had planned a plenary session in April, the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes to all such plans.

While such a state may spell disaster to the Congress’ revival and great news for the BJP, it is advantageous for the regional satraps of the Congress.

Offering rewards are always a matter of political bargain, a transactional give and take. Take a look at the recent Congress nominees to the June 19 Rajya Sabha elections. Both party general secretary K.C. Venugopal and Maharashtra leader Rajeev Satav didn't contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but are Rahul Gandhi’s hand-picked candidates.

But the bargain by powerful regional leaders was to stop Randeep Surjewala, an aide of Mr. Gandhi, or Haryana Congress Kumari Selja, party chief Sonia Gandhi’s choice, from becoming Rajya Sabha members from Haryana.

Instead, former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who is now the Opposition Leader in Haryana, managed to get his son and former Lok Sabha MP, Deepender, elected unopposed.

The Gandhi family's weak decision-making power has also allowed things to drift away in several States that are witnessing a leadership tussle. In Punjab, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is being challenged regularly by former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa; the rivalry between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan is out in the open and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel shares an uneasy relationship with his colleague T.S. Singh Deo, who headed the party’s campaign.

The Congress leadership also seems unable to decide on who should lead the States such as Assam and Bengal that go to polls next year or, for that matter, its leader in the Lok Sabha.

As the central leadership of the Congress and the Gandhi family’s hold weakens over the party, regional leaders who still have some popular mass base may continue to dictate terms.

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