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The current travails of the Congress are in some sort of synchronisation with the party’s astounding electoral defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. With less than 50 seats in the Lok Sabha, the party finds itself placed in a situation where it is strategically handicapped to make the next move on various fronts, including the upcoming assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, leave alone Jharkhand, where no organisation of the Congress seems to exist. Reports of infighting are surfacing, with a minister each in Maharashtra and Assam resigning on grounds of differences with their respective chief ministers. And thereby hangs a tale.
The Maharashtra minister, Narayan Rane, has jousted with whichever chief minister he served, probably he could not countenance the fact he had been just a minister in a state in which he had been chief minister once, although as a member of a different political party. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s successive victories in assembly elections, by good margins at that, managed to paper over the grouse that any disgruntled Congress functionary could have had against him. Even in this Lok Sabha election, the pre-poll forecasts had predicted the Congress would do well in the state. With the party coming a cropper in Assam also, the opponents of Mr Gogoi are sensing an opportunity to get back at him. Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda too confronts a similar situation of fractious party colleagues, one of them a former Union minister, posing a challenge to him.
This is not entirely a new situation for the Congress. In the 1980s, when it was in total control in many states as well as the Centre, the party had regularly changed chief ministers in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, responding each time to murky behind-the-scenes political manipulations. After losing the Lok Sabha election in 1989, the Congress again changed chief ministers in many states. That, however, did not help as the party lost most of the assembly polls subsequently. If this could happen to a party when it is in power, it requires no great imagination to conceive what is happening now. Contrary to what the situation was in its early days of glory, politics has become a full-time occupation for most Congress leaders, and bread-and-butter issues assume prominence with each regime change.
The Congress leadership, which has reposed its faith in Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, should not appear silent at this stage and take every measure to tone up the party before the next round of the assembly elections. The least they could do is to call the rebels to the capital and reason with them. Before the Lok Sabha elections, it appeared to many observers that the party had given up before the first vote was cast. This should not happen again.