A story of factional oneupmanship

In the end, it was to be a mega non-event — the talk of "resignation" by the central office-bearers of the Congress and the members of the Congress Working Committee. It turned out to be a story of factional oneupmanship, and of lessons unlearnt. After its debacle in three key State Assembly elections, the party, especially its senior leaders, ought to have been in a chastened mood, to engage in self-introspection, seek to pinpoint what went wrong. With the general elections barely 10 months away, they could not afford the luxury of theatrical moves. For a while, they seemed serious, as was evident from the appointment of a special committee headed by one of the veterans, Pranab Mukherjee, but then a section of them was back to the familiar game which, in the past, had evoked ridicule.

On Sunday, the television/news channels announced — dramatically, as is their wont — the resignation of key office-bearers and members of the Congress's apex body. That was enough to spoil the holiday of the journalists covering the political beat in New Delhi's vast press corps. Had the television correspondents ascertained the precise factual position, the story would not have been that dramatic. Their reports were based on what they had been told by or on behalf of three or four persons, the office-bearers working with the party president, Sonia Gandhi. Essentially it was an announcement of their resignation, but the way they put it suggested that all the CWC members had quit to "strengthen her hands" to revamp the organisation. It was a major surprise, as there was no inkling that such a step was contemplated at levels that mattered. Some of the members followed suit with their quit offers — they were intimidated by the "media-blitz" — their description of the half-hourly relay by the TV channels of the version of the office-bearers (or the coterie, to their critics). Others chose to check with Ms. Gandhi, who denied having made such a suggestion. Her party spokesmen were then asked to put the record straight — no resignations had been demanded or accepted, and whatever changes were considered necessary would be effected after the submission of the special committee's report. The changes may be sweeping — but that is another story.

At a time when the Congress needed to project a united face, it was seen divided — with the "coterie" on one side and the rest on the other or with the old geared on the one side and the not-so-old on the other. And just around that time, the affairs in two States — Punjab and Kerala —

where the party is in power, took a clumsy turn, with the "high command" seen unable to deal with the protracted infighting.

Whenever there is a shake-up, real or stillborn, in a political party, there is a tendency to apply the Kamaraj Plan label to it. This was what happened when the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, decided to use some Ministers — Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley among them — for party work. And this is what we witness again now. Even if the resignations of the CWC members had been demanded and they had compiled with the directive, it could not have been compared to the Kamaraj Plan. Jawaharlal Nehru used that plan essentially to tackle the situation created by the succession struggle during his lifetime. The ambitious claimants, Morarji Desai and Jagjivan Ram, were among the six ministers eased out of the Cabinet then. An equal number of Congress Chief Ministers had to go, some because they were controversial or found wanting otherwise. In today's Congress, succession struggle is not at all the issue. Ms. Gandhi's supremacy is unchallenged. As a matter of fact, it is the absence of second-rung leaders that should be the cause of concern. The Assembly elections showed how this gap worked to the detriment of the Congress. Also, the Congress Chief Ministers had been asked to quit by the party president. Call the present episode anything but please do not call it a Kamaraj Plan.

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