The removal of Vilasrao Deshmukh as Maharashtra Chief Minister, immediately after the resignation of Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, is a clear indication that the Congress High Command has finally decided to make its important functionaries accountable.
The central leadership had been scrutinizing Deshmukh's performance closely for quite a while, but on earlier occasions, some of Deshmukh powerful friends always managed to help him keep his job. This time around, they could do nothing since Rahul Gandhi, sensing the public mood, personally stepped in to ensure his removal.
It is for the second time that Deshmukh has had to give up the CM’s post. The last time, he was replaced by Sushil Kumar Shinde who fought anti incumbency and brought the Congress-NCP coalition back to power in Maharashtra in 2004, only to find himself replaced by Deshmukh.
Amazingly, Deshmukh is the only Congress chief minister to be replaced (twice over at that!) in the10 years that Sonia Gandhi has been party president. Similarly Shivraj Patil is the first union cabinet minister who has been forced to resign for poor performance during this period, though K. Natwar Singh was also removed – albeit for very different reasons.
It does seem the Congress High Command has finally decided to fix responsibility and haul up those who fail to deliver. Till now, the party has lost elections in state after state but the people responsible for the setback remained at the helm of Congress affairs in those states, and in some cases, were even given additional responsibilities.
The Congress leadership however is still on test. Is it prepared to hold accountable general secretaries who play key roles in devising poll strategy, if the strategy boomerangs and the party loses? It may have to be done to stem the demoralization seeping in.
“The recent resignations are in accordance with the highest traditions of the party,” said veteran leader Bhishma Narain Singh. He reminded that leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri and Madhavrao Scindia had quit office owning responsibility for major failures by their ministries. “If this practice is being revived, it is a good sign for the party,” he said.