While the Congress is hoping to regain power in Punjab in the next few years with the ruling Akali Dal at its lowest ebb, the ongoing power struggle between the state chief Partap Singh Bajwa and his predecessor Captain Amarinder Singh seems to be giving an edge to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that is emerging as a key player in the state’s political landscape.
In a recent meeting held with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, several Punjab leaders from legislators to district presidents and councilors had expressed serious concern over the matter. The leaders were of the view that the intense infighting will help AAP to consolidate across the state which would later cost the party dear in the 2017 assembly elections.
After Rahul Gandhi publicly acknowledged that infighting is part of the system and cannot be ended, his recent drill of wider consultations on the change of the guard in Punjab did not reach a consensus.
Party sources suggested that Rahul is “reluctant” to hand over the reins to Amarinder in view of his “obduracy” and some resistance against the move. Meanwhile, the former CM’s detractors argue that the Congress had lost twice – 2007 and 2012 – under his leadership and that if the leadership succumbed to his pressure tactics, it will give rise to similar “uprisings” in the other states. “The regional satraps will try to arm twist and function according to their own whims and fancies. It will then become extremely difficult to contain such dissidence. The writ of the high command has to prevail under any circumstance,” a senior functionary said.
However, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is not in favour of “antagonising” Amarinder at a time “when the chips are down” and an electoral victory in Punjab could put the party back on revival track ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. There are also reports that he might form his own party, if all his conditions are not fulfilled.
“She is convinced that only Amarinder would achieve this because of his charisma and popularity, not only among colleagues but masses as well,” another leader said.
But Congress’ woes go beyond Punjab. Neighbouring Haryana is witnessing street fights between state president Ashok Tanwar and former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The public spats have embarrassed the central leadership twice during party rallies in Delhi – first on April 20 and then on September 20.
After Bihar, the poll battle will shift to Kerala, Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu where elections are due April next year. In these states too, growing factionalism is set to affect the Congress’s chances. In Kerala, chief minister Oommen Chandy and home minister Ramesh Chennithala have joined hands against state chief VM Sudheeran. Both consider Sudheeran, also a CM aspirant, a threat to their political ambitions.
The party has already split in Tamil Nadu with former minister GK Vasan reviving the Tamil Maanila Congress once led by his late father GK Moopanar. Present Congress chief EVKS Elangovan has been unable to carry everyone along.
Similarly in Assam, the exit of senior leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, whom chief minister Tarun Gogoi described as “one of the assets” is certainly going to affect the Congress. Sarma, who quit the Congress over differences with Gogoi, later joined the BJP which has made significant inroads in the state post 2014 polls.
Reviving the party in key states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal is a daunting task ahead for Rahul as he embarks on putting his house in order.