The art of mediating conflicts

In Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress tried different models. It isn’t working
Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel with Chhattisgarh in-charge PL Punia leave Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's residence after meeting him, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (ANI) PREMIUM
Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel with Chhattisgarh in-charge PL Punia leave Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's residence after meeting him, in New Delhi on Tuesday. (ANI)
Updated on Aug 25, 2021 05:27 PM IST
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ByHT Editorial

A political party is home to colliding ambitions. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the presence of an unchallenged national leader with electoral appeal, an institutional history where no rebel has succeeded in causing a national-level vertical split, and the presence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as a mediator helps in resolving conflicts. But in a party where splits have benefited those exiting (think the Trinamool Congress, or YSR Congress Party in terms of parties; or Himanta Biswa Sarma, in terms of individuals), the leadership is seen as electorally incapable, organisational discipline is weak, the ability to dispense patronage is limited, and many down the political chain lack confidence in the party’s future, factional battles are harder to resolve. And that is the story of the Congress.

In Chhattisgarh, the Congress leadership, after the 2018 elections, came up with a power-sharing formula — Bhupesh Baghel would be chief minister (CM) for two-and-a-half years, TS Singh Deo would take over for the remaining part of the term. Rahul Gandhi, reports say, is aware that such a promise was made; Mr Singh Deo, who has been loyal and competent, is now staking his claim. But Mr Baghel is a rare backward face of the party; removing him is hard to justify and may have costs. Or take Rajasthan. Sachin Pilot overreached with his rebellion last year. But the leadership assured him of space in the state government and the party for now, and leadership in the future. But CM Ashok Gehlot, the stronger of the two leaders, has no interest in meeting promises made in Delhi to his rival. In both these cases, the leadership, faced with strong CMs who have their own base, is finding it hard to enforce its promises.

Also Read | Chhattisgarh top leaders call on Rahul Gandhi amid friction

In Punjab, the high command went against the wishes of CM Amarinder Singh and imposed a rebel, Navjot Singh Sidhu, as state president. But this has only intensified internal battles, and the Congress is coming across as incapable of running its own party, let alone the state. In Madhya Pradesh (MP), the party threw in its lot with the then CM Kamal Nath (and ex-CM Digvijay Singh) and refused to listen to internal discontent articulated by Jyotiraditya Scindia, which led to the collapse of the government itself. All of this indicates that the Congress does not have a formula for conflict resolution — backing the incumbent (in MP) didn’t work, backing the rebel (in Punjab) isn’t working, and keeping both the incumbent and rebel hanging (in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh) isn’t productive either. Till the party finds a better internal resolution mechanism, it will continue to struggle politically.

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Sunday, December 05, 2021