This coupled with some other recent developments yet again pose a question to Congress — beyond some optics and aggressively targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi all the time, is the party serious about rebuilding its social base, inspire confidence among its workers and sympathisers and put up a real challenge to the BJP in the coming state Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra.
On Wednesday, Congress strategists had thought to steal the thunder from Modi and the BJP on Gandhi Jayanti, particularly since the Modi government and the BJP had planned mega-events for the day. While Rahul held a two-kilometre Gandhi Sandesh Yatra from Delhi Congress headquarters to Rajghat, Sonia Gandhi (at Rajghat) spoke about the importance of retaining Gandhi’s values and how the BJP was undoing it. Meanwhile, Priyanka took part in a silent padayatra in Lucknow.
By Wednesday afternoon, as the day’s events unfolded, the headlines proved detrimental to Congress’s well-conceived plan causing huge embarrassment for the Congress leadership and the Gandhi-Nehru family, in particular.
If you analyse all that happened on Wednesday and a few days ago, you get a picture of where do all these leave Congress at a time when poll bugle has already been sounded in two states — Maharashtra and Haryana — and another two states — Jharkhand followed by Delhi — will shortly go through the electoral process.
First, let’s take into account, an important development that took place in Lucknow when Priyanka was trying to challenge Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Congress’ Raebeareli Sadar MLA Aditi Singh openly defied party leadership, Priyanka in particular, not just by attending the record-making 36-hour long UP Assembly session but also spoke eloquently of the developmental achievements of the Yogi Adityanath government. Congress has half a dozen MLAs in the 403-member UP Legislative Assembly and Singh is one of the most prominent members of the grand old party in Uttar Pradesh.
Her father Akhilesh Singh, a local strongman who died recently had been five-term MLA from Raebareli Sadar seat. All his life Singh had been a bitter critic of the Gandhi-Nehru family and won election after election the city despite Congress summoning all its might to challenge him. During the last Assembly election, Akhilesh Singh was undergoing treatment for cancer and had decided to pass on the mantle to his daughter Aditi. Even as he was asking his supporters to vote for his daughter and for Congress, he was all praise for Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. In the thick of campaigning, he had told Firstpost that India never had a leader like Modi in the past, nor is the country likely to see anyone like him in the immediate future. He had then said that he allowed Aditi to go to Congress and fight on a Congress ticket because Priyanka had become friends with her. They had met accidentally and since then developed friendship, and Akhilesh Singh, who was in the last stages of his life, was more concerned about his daughter’s comfort and her future prospects.
Aditi’s snub to Congress leadership, particularly on a day when party general secretary Priyanka, was in the city speaks of a crisis of confidence that the Congress rank and file members face at this stage. Remember, Raebareli is the only parliamentary seat which Congress won in Uttar Pradesh in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
Second, a large number of Congress leaders and workers led by Ashok Tanwar who till a month ago used to be Haryana Congress president held protest in front of Sonia Gandhi’s 10 Janpath residence alleging that the party was selling tickets for state elections. It should be noted that the protest was held in front of Sonia’s residence, not in front of the Congress headquarters. If the allegations of distributing tickets for monetary considerations is true then it speaks of the kind of command Sonia, as interim president, has over the party.
Third, a video clip surfaced late Wednesday evening where Sonia’s political advisor Ahmed Patel, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and former Haryana chief minister and newly appointed Leader of Opposition in Haryana Assembly Bhupinder Singh Hooda are discussing poll prospects in the state. They are heard talking possibly about an internal survey giving them 14 seats. In the video, Patel can be heard asking where does Congress stand in the Haryana election and Hooda responding to the question. Then they discuss the number of seats that should be given to Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala’s nominees.
This was like conceding defeat even before the beginning of the actual electioneering in the state.
Interestingly, Sonia made the changes in the organisational set up of Haryana Congress only a month before the announcement of Assembly election in the state. No party, which takes poll preparedness seriously does that this close to poll dates. The Sonia-led Congress has yielded to the pressure mounted by Hooda.
In Maharashtra, Congress and NCP have seen large scale desertion of their leaders to the BJP, indicating that its leaders have no hope of mounting an effective counter to the ruling BJP-Sena coalition in the state either.
In Jharkhand, which would go to the polls soon after the poll process is over in Maharashtra and Haryana, the state Congress chief Dr Ajay Kumar quit the party recently. Kumar, a doctor-turned-IPS-turned-corporate executive-turned-politician was kind of the poster boy of Congress’ supposed “clean politics” and meritorious persons entry to politics. The Congress leadership has not yet responded to Kumar’s exit.
In Delhi, the party continues to be rudderless after Sheila Dikshit’s death. It continues to work with around half a dozen working presidents. In fact, in the national capital, the party is out of the popular imagination.
The party’s internal fight is out in the open in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tripura… the list would go on.
The party leadership’s thought process could be assessed from the fact that its chief Sonia addressed a public function after a long time but that was only to receive and mark the conclusion of her son Rahul’s nearly three-kilometre-long padayatra to Rajghat.