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CONGRESS CACOPHONY

The BJP in the State under a youthful leadership is already in mission mode for the Assembly poll-2008 while the Congress is still grappling with leadership crisis. What does the main opposition party in the State need for revival - a more dynamic leadership, a Dabra conclave or both?

india Updated: Dec 21, 2006 14:32 IST

The BJP in the State under a youthful leadership is already in mission mode for the Assembly poll-2008 while the Congress is still grappling with leadership crisis. What does the main opposition party in the State need for revival - a more dynamic leadership, a Dabra conclave or both? Rakesh Dixit analyses confusion in the party

THE SHARP contrast in the BJP and the Congress in Madhya Pradesh is inescapable. Dominated by youth power, the ruling party looks cocky. The main opposition, on the other hand, is adrift under a jaded leadership. Soon after Narendra Singh Tomar’s election as BJP president recently, the ruling party declared it was in poll-mode in MP, though the Assembly election is still two years away. The BJP’s stewardship for  Mission-2008 enjoys enviable certainty.

None in the party has doubts about the leading pair — Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and State president Narendra Singh Tomar. Both young leaders share great chemistry  and, at least for now, they are free from worries of intra-party squabbles.    

The Congress, in contrast, is pitiably faction-ridden and uncertain about leadership. Having smarted long enough under the humiliation of a row of crushing by-poll defeats since the Great Debacle of 2003 election, the Congress is unmistakably astir.

Its tremendous nervous energy is manifesting itself in rallies across the State. Sabre-rattling is getting increasingly audible.

General mood of despondency among party workers is giving way to demonstrable show of loyalty to their leaders. Scent of power has begun to churn their dormant political ambitions. Eyes are once again awash with colourful dreams.

But the big question remains unresolved. Who will lead the party in the forthcoming election? Barring some self-deluding hardcore supporters of  incumbent MPCC president Subhash Yadav, none in the State Congress seems confident about the present leadership’s ability to revive the party for comeback in the 2008 elections.

Faced with this big question, Congressmen and women indulge in a curious elimination game during private talk. The game goes roughly like this; all  big leaders are mentioned one by one, then begins elimination round; Digvijay Singh? He is an astute politician with considerable following in the State but people might not accept his leadership having rejected his 10-year rule so comprehensively in the last poll. Anyway, he has already counted himself out. Kamal Nath?

He loves to revel in the role of kingmaker, won’t come to State politics. Suresh Pachauri? Dynamic leader with blessings from 10 Janpath, but too involved in Delhi politics. Jyotiraditya Scindia? The greatest charmer of all, can turn the tide in favour of the Congress in the coming election but seems pretty happy in the influence zone around Gwalior like father late Madhavrao Scindia. Subhash Yadav? He has shown enough of his leadership (?) qualities. Jamuna Devi?

Too old to lead the party. Ajay Singh? Young and charming but markedly reluctant to reach out beyond his long – loyal group. Then who? The question persists.  

Nevertheless, three names invariably figure in Congress workers’ leadership talk — Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ajay Singh and Suresh Pachauri, not necessarily in this order. They are young, suave, well-educated, and, above all, command sizeable following in the party.

Of them, Scindia and Ajay Singh have inherited political legacies of their fathers. Pachauri has networked a loyal brigade across the State from his Youth Congress days two decades ago. Together, they are the most prominent face of the State Congress of future. However, ask them if they are ready to pick the gauntlet and the three are at their diplomatic best.        

“I’m not interested in State politics, if you ask my personal opinion. But, if the high command directs me to lead the State Congress, I’ll humbly bow to the decision,” says Union Minister of State for Personnel Suresh Pachauri. Jyotiraditya Scindia dismisses the leadership question as hypothetical. “We have only one leader and that is Soniaji.

All others including me are just party soldiers. For me, this leadership issue is immaterial. I’m focussed only on strengthening the party,” avers Scindia. Ajay Singh too shrugs off the question, calling himself a ‘humble soldier’ of the party. All of them are wise enough to let the leadership issue hang till the high command takes note of their potential for the task.        

And they have already embarked on showing their political clout. Jyotiraditya Scindia has addressed two impressive rallies in Aron and Indore and is set to address another in Datia on December 22. Ajay Singh is slated to address rallies in Agar and Shajapur. He was also present at the Tikamgarh rally. Pachauri is focussed mainly on Bhopal, Hoshangabad and Narsinghpur region.

Congress workers, however, feel that unless individual attempts to revive the party are integrated into a collective initiative, the schism within will only widen. Much will depend on whether the spurt in  factional rallies culminates in ‘Dabra’ or disintegrates the party into lumps of an emasculated body.

Dabra is not just a small town in northern Madhya Pradesh; it’s a metaphor for Congress unity. It was in this town that the State Congress bigwigs had pledged to bury the hatchet and work for party’s victory in the forthcoming Assembly election in December 1993. Late Madhavrao Scindia was architect of the Dabra conclave. Rest, as they say, is history.

Partymen visualise the present situation in the Congress as reminiscent of pre-Dabra days. The scent of power had galvanised Congress workers during President’s rule in 1993. That led to fierce competitive politics. Finally, Dabra happened.

Ironically, the Congress leader who benefited most from the Dabra conclave is the one who has triggered off the present rally war. Digvijay Singh was MPCC president then. His last month’s ‘intrusion’ in Bhind and Morena, parts of a clearly demarcated citadel of Scindia, has jolted the party.

Congress unity is guided by a cardinal principle, that no leader will poach into another’s ‘area of influence’. Digvijay Singh’s defence for breaking the rule was that a large section of Congressmen in Bhind and Morena regions was demoralised due to neglect in nomination of DCC presidents. Jyotiraditya Scindia was not invited for both rallies.

The Guna MP paid Digvijay Singh in the same coin by holding a far more impressive rally in Aron in the former CM’s Raghogarh constituency. Digvijay Singh’s supporters attended the rally, though he stayed away. Scindia said he had invited Digvijay Singh.

On December 22, Jyotiraditya Scindia is scheduled to address a rally in Datia and two days later Digvijay Singh in Sheopur. The Datia rally is authorised in the sense that PCC chief Subhash Yadav and AICC general secretary V Narayan Sami are going to attend it.

As for Digvijay Singh’s rally, MPCC chief Subhash Yadav says, “Every leader has his/her own area of influence and any foray there by other leaders should have his consent.” Yadav has indicated his disapproval of Digvijay Singh’s activism through several indirect barbs but has not brought himself to vetoing his rallies. Digvijay Singh himself once remarked that if Subhash Yadav so wished he would stop attending rallies.

It is this indecisiveness that has proved to be the MPCC president’s biggest undoing. Nothing illustrates this more glaringly than the fact that the PCC executive has not been constituted in the last two years. Yadav, of course, blames the dormancy on non-cooperation of other leaders.

Hitherto, Congress activism has largely been limited to handing over memoranda to the Governor, occasional sit-ins and demonstrations besides religiously sending copious press statements to the newspaper offices.

One more notable activity that hit the headlines was appointment of party spokesmen. They are still there, issuing statements.  

Prof Sabharwal’s killing in Ujjain was arguably the only issue that galvanised Congress leaders. But here too, the media was on the forefront, Congress merely followed it.

Continued power crisis, poor construction of roads and other infrastructural problems, which the BJP had exploited against the Congress Government in the previous election to the hilt, have not figured as high in the Congress agenda as they ought to have.      

Subhash Yadav says that there was corruption in the Congress rule, too, but BJP ministers seem to be doing nothing but minting money all the time. 

If he is right, one fails to understand why corruption cases against BJP ministers are not coming forth except the pension scam in Indore and that, too, because of Governor Balram Jakhar’s personal initiative. When Digvijay Singh was in power, the BJP had been able to create an air that Lokayukta cases against as many as 22 ministers were pending and thus it made corruption a big issue during elections.     

On the other hand, Yadav’s supporters raise accusing fingers at Central leaders from the State, who don’t allow any second-rung leader to work.

They (the Central leaders) have virtually stalled constitution of fresh PCC because Yadav wanted a small body unlike traditional jumbo-sized PCC, said a PCC office-bearer close to Yadav.

The Pandhana debacle has left Yadav even more vulnerable. He is in Delhi for an audience with party president Sonia Gandhi for some time.