There are very few politicians I know who have quit the BJP to join the Congress, but there are several from the Shiv Sena who have achieved greater heights within the Congress. But rarely are these former Shiv Sainiks able to come to grips with the Congress culture — of backstabbing, factionalism, placing self above party, et al.
So, when Narayan Rane lost an election he had worked very hard to win, he bitterly complained that it was his own party men – Congressmen — who had ensured his defeat.
That is when a veteran Congress worker told me wryly, “Have you ever heard of a Congress candidate saying he was defeated by the BJP or the Shiv Sena or even the Communist Party? No. It is always a Congressman who defeats another Congressman. They never want to work for the party. They only work for their own faction or candidate.”
It is now Sanjay Nirupam’s turn to discover this bitter truth about his new party. He was a combative Shiv Sainik to begin with and even today has lost none of that aggression in demolishing the opposition. But he has yet to come to terms with the fact that Congressmen always score selfgoals. And no unit of the party is more faction ridden than the city Congress, which he now heads.
For years, a galaxy of stalwarts like Rajni Patel and Murli Deora headed the Mumbai Congress. Their value to the party high command was their corporate connections, which brought ample funds to the party treasury. I came across Deora as a rookie reporter and watched closely as faction after faction tried to trip him up. Deora, a former Bombay mayor, only ever won one Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election in his lifetime – in 1985 – but he was worth much more than just a corporation election, won or lost, to the party high command and so, no one could quite displace him – or even replace Deora when he resigned in the aftermath of the party’s debacle in corporation elections in 1996. There was a contest for the city president’s post and once again, he trumped all, including Gurudas Kamat who had to wait nearly another decade to take his place as the MRCC chief – by appointment. The three city Congress presidents, who followed Kamat in the job, were handpicked by the high command as well.
But neither Kamat nor Kripashankar Singh, who had golden opportunities during their tenures, could defeat the Shiv Sena-BJP combine and the saffron alliance has had the city in its grip for nearly a quarter century now. But things might soon be changing – and it is the sense of a coming victory for the Congress in the 2017 corporation elections that, I believe, is behind the fiasco of the unsigned articles in ‘Congress Darshan’, an in-house magazine of the party which Nirupam was attempting to revive. The articles, critical of Nehru on Kashmir and describing Sonia Gandhi’s father as a ‘fascist soldier’, were published in the first week of December, but it took three more weeks for Nirupam’s detractors – believed to be the same faction which got after Singh for alleged financial irregularities and destroyed his reputation and career – to underline those paragraphs with colourful markers and time the expose with the Congress’s foundation day on December 28. A celebration of 131 years in existence was marred by huge embarrassment and a sacking of the content editor, which bought forward ridicule on social media for the party now being accused of lack of internal democracy and intolerance.
While Nirupam admitted to an oversight, he is quite unable to understand how his own party men could damage their own party. The Shiv Sena and BJP, too, are faction-ridden, but the various factions never go so far as to embarrass their topranking leaders to serve their own interests. But what Nirupam is, perhaps, unable to grasp is that should the Congress pull off a victory in the corporation elections 14 months hence, his accomplishment would be hugely embarrassing to blue-blooded Congressmen who are unable to entertain the thought of a former Shiv Sainik pipping them to the post.
But that was always the Congress’s way, as he should soon begin to realise. They do not care if their party loses so long as a rival does not win. They were always the proverbial dog in the manger, I should say!