Former Tamil Nadu Congress leader GK Vasan’s announcement that he was leaving the Congress and forming a ‘new Congress’ in Tamil Nadu was a development waiting to happen. In fact, it is the best thing that has happened to the grand old party in the state in a long while. Unlike the Congress in neighbouring Kerala, the party unit in Tamil Nadu depends on the political fortunes of the Congress at the Centre. And now with the Congress at its lowest ebb, dissent and desertion will become commonplace.
Perhaps the only tall leader the state Congress can boast of is Kamaraj and that was before Tamil Nadu even became the state it is today (Kamaraj was a three-time chief minister of the erstwhile Madras state). Since 1969 the two Dravidian parties — the AIADMK and the DMK — have taken up the political space, leaving little room for other parties, regional and national. The Congress has been more of a third or fourth option. During the last general elections it was evident that the Congress lacked the rigour to fight and had given up even before the campaign had begun.
On the face of it, Vasan’s exit is a blow to the party. Vasan’s exit splits the Congress in Tamil Nadu down the middle — it is said that 20 of the 50 district committee presidents are with Vasan. For EVKS Elangovan, the Tamil Nadu Congress chief, building the party for the 2016 assembly polls will be an uphill task. But there is sliver of hope. With Vasan’s exit the Congress can no longer ignore the problems that plague the party in the state. The Congress’ ‘remote-control’ operations from Delhi, which have not given regional leaders the space to grow and due credit to tall leaders, will have to change if it needs to have even a fighting chance in 2016.
This is an opportunity for the Congress high command to pay attention to the issues that Vasan has raised and address them. Rather than refusing to accept that there are problems that need to be addressed, the Congress should accept that it has for long ignored the state. In the past decade when the UPA was in power, the Congress was overshadowed and pushed to the margins by its UPA ally, the DMK.
With M Karunanidhi passing the mantle to his son MK Stalin and J Jayalalithaa’s political future uncertain, Tamil Nadu’s political map is being redrawn. The BJP is trying to make inroads into the state and so is AAP. The political stability that Tamil Nadu is used to is about to change, and Vasan is trying to fill this vacuum.
A lot can happen between now and 2016, but it seems Vasan has taken the right step. Vasan and the Congress need a break from each other. And it is a make-or-break period for both.