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The Congress is going off track

Congress has gained strength under Sonia Gandhi and can consolidate itself in its 125th year if it focuses on sensitive issues more effectively. The Congress president has to realise that the power play is not without reason, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2010 21:46 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The Congress turned 125 years old last week. But the low-key celebration of the historic occasion demonstrated that all is not well in the Grand Old Party of India. Contrary to the erroneous impression that the Congress was firmly in control and the Opposition parties, particularly the BJP, were in a poor shape, a fierce power struggle seems afoot among several senior leaders. While Sonia Gandhi’s authority is unchallenged as she has steered the party with distinction through its most difficult phase to come to power at the Centre and 15 states in her 11 years in active politics, major differences have cropped up among top leaders.

The first indication of this tussle may emerge when the organisation is revamped. However, the time frame for this exercise is still not clear. There has been huge resentment in the rank and file over the distribution of responsibilities among a few select leaders. The same leaders are ministers and also hold charge of several states. This has left many Congressmen wondering whether there was such a dearth of talent in their party that it had to go against the principle of one man-one post.

When the party began its second term in the central government in May 2009, many party office-bearers were inducted into the Council of Ministers but continued to also look after states. In process, their performance in both places has been questionable and a powerful lobby within the party is making an attempt to impress upon the Congress president that this anomaly needs to be undone. The events that will unfold will also indicate the changing power equations within the organisation and perhaps throw up some new faces before Rahul Gandhi finally decides to take on greater responsibility.

Many senior leaders privately feel that the Congress should not think it will get its way just because the BJP is riddled with internal problems. The manner in which major issues have been handled, including the Telangana affair and the price rise of essential commodities, shows that the party lacks focus. It cannot hope to remain in power just because the opposition was doing badly. It needs to consolidate its position by extraordinary work. The common perception is that ever since the party came to power last May, its government does not have the same kind of authority it had during its first tenure.

The Congress has been through many difficult times even after Independence when it has seen at least three clear splits. The first was in 1969 when a powerful syndicate within the party challenged Indira Gandhi’s supremacy. The party, which was elected on the symbol of two bullocks, had to give up its original electoral emblem after Indira Gandhi retained her government with the help of the Left. The 1971 elections where she won on the garibi hatao slogan were contested on the cow and calf symbol.

The second split took place in February 1977 when Jagjivan Ram and H.N. Bahuguna along with a large number of supporters walked out of the party to form the Congress for Democracy thereby paving the way for the Janata Party’s historic victory a month later. The third split was in January, 1978, when Indira Gandhi broke away from the party led by senior leaders such as Y.B. Chavan and formed the Congress(I) with Kamlapati Tripathi as its working president and the hand as its new symbol.

There was another split in the nineties when the Congress (Tiwari) was temporarily formed against P.V. Narasimha Rao’s manner of functioning. This faction re-merged into the party again.

The party has gained strength under Sonia Gandhi and can consolidate itself in its 125th year if it focuses on sensitive issues more effectively. The Congress president has to realise that the power play is not without reason and matters should be salvaged before it is too late. Between us.