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Wanted: A strong handshake

There is obviously a section in the Congress that is either letting down the party president deliberately or is pursuing an agenda, writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2008 18:59 IST
Pankaj Vohra

With the long pending reshuffle in the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and the central government expected during the recess in the Parliament session, the focus continues to be on the going-ons within the Congress. The party ended up with egg on its face following the failure of its Chief Minister DD Lapang to face the assembly in Meghalaya, leading to the formation of a United Democratic Party-NCP alliance government headed by Donkupar Roy. Why ever did the Congress form a government there in the first place when it did not have the numbers? And why has no one been held accountable for this humiliation so far? There is obviously a section in the Congress that is either letting down the party president deliberately or is pursuing an agenda.

There is hardly a state in which the Congress is functioning smoothly. In Karnataka, which can have elections as early as May, it is a case of too many cooks wanting to spoil the broth. There are already six leaders from the state who are Congress Working Committee members that include four general secretaries. But all of them are pulling the party in different directions. The only time they agreed on something was when at a meeting convened by the state-in-charge, they rejected the proposal to bring back SM Krishna into active politics. However, they were overruled by Sonia Gandhi and Krishna after he gave up the Maharashtra governorship is very much trying his best in the little time available to him to put the house back in order.

It’s the same situation in Maharashtra where indecision again is proving to be counter-productive. Both Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and PCC president Prabha Rau are unclear whether they are going to stay or go. Sonia Gandhi had decided to send Sushil Kumar Shinde as the CM to the state but put the decision on hold. Rau is sought to be replaced by Narayan Rane, who may have no choice but to strengthen the Congress as he faces a stiff challenge from its ally, the NCP, and from its rival, the Shiv Sena.

For Rane, the return of the Shiv Sena would mean trouble because of the anticipated political vendetta involved. Many think he is the only Maratha leader who can offer some kind of resistance to Sharad Pawar’s growing stranglehold. If not Rane, then Vilas Muttemwar, who won in Vidarbha in face of a BJP-Shiv Sena onslaught last time, could be considered. There has also been a demand to change the Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) chief Gurudas Kamat with former minister Kirpa Shankar Singh as a sign to ‘reassure’ Mumbai’s north Indian community. But again, the decision lies with Sonia Gandhi.

In Punjab, where the PCC chief is yet to be appointed with Rajinder Kaur Bhattal holding both positions of the PCC chief and Congress Legislative Party leader, the situation is again dismal. Punjab is one state where the ‘confrontationist’ type of politics is needed instead of the ‘conniving’ kind practised by the Congress. Bhattal’s actions in holding a friendly cricket match with the Akalis and then agreeing to the cancellation of the panchayat polls are not being seen as positive developments for the Congress. The Akalis were on the back foot on the panchayat polls issue as there is only two hours of power supply in villages, while the water situation is dismal. A Congress MLA considered close to Bhattal also suggested that there should be a common minimum programme with the opposition Akalis. The party may have to think about getting back Amarinder Singh again if it has to face the challenge from the Akalis.

In the poll-going Jammu and Kashmir, Union Minister Saifuddin Soz has been entrusted with the additional task of the PCC. First, if Soz has to prepare the Congress in Kashmir, he should be in Kashmir all the time and ensure that the party wins the assembly given that his own Rajya Sabha seat ends in November. If the party does not do well, his continuation as a minister could be a problem, something that his Madhya Pradesh colleague Suresh Pachauri is facing. So, the principle of ‘one-man, one post’ may need to be reinforced at least in the cases of Soz and Pachauri.

Coming to Pachauri and MV Rajshekaran, both Union ministers who did not get the Rajya Sabha berth, constitutional propriety demands that they step down even if the core committee upholds their claim. There is a clear ruling in the Pranab Mukherjee case that if a sitting minister ceases to be a member of the House, he should resign from the day his term in Parliament ends. This should not be mixed up with a fresh incumbent inducted in the ministry. The party is duty-bound to get him elected within six months. The ambiguity that is being created is not going to help the party in anyway. Pachauri, who has already served four Rajya Sabha terms, should be given a chance to prove himself in his home state as Congress chief.

The principle of ‘one-man, one post’ should only be valid for the Congress president and not for anyone else — although Union Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who has been entrusted the task of looking after West Bengal could be the other exception. Dasmunsi is perhaps the only former Youth Congress President other than Gurudas Kamat who is a member of the Lok Sabha and thus could be an exception as he has to fight the formidable Left in his state.

There are also complaints pouring in from Rajasthan where attempts to once again put Ashok Gehlot in command are on. Many political observers feel that the Congress must have a fresh look at Rajasthan and other places where assembly elections are to be held. This will also help during parliamentary elections.

The Congress if it goes in for a revamp must act to strengthen the party president. The stage is set for fresh alliances even if they have to be at the cost of existing ones, since other allies are also exploring alternate options. Status quo suits only a handful of Congress leaders and not the organisation. Therefore, a fresh look at things with a fresh perspective is needed. Between us.