The challenge within the Congress
The rift in the Congress has deepened. First, a rally was held in Jammu, ostensibly to honour Ghulam Nabi Azad, which saw the presence of key members of G23, the dissenters who wrote a letter demanding organisational changes in the party. Mr Azad then praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi — which led to Congress workers demanding his removal. Another G23 leader, Anand Sharma, criticised the party’s decision to ally with a political outfit led by a Muslim cleric in Bengal — which prompted a fierce response from others close to the party high command.
Four separate issues have come together in the Congress. One, there is a general sense of drift after two consecutive Lok Sabha poll defeats, and erosion of faith in Rahul Gandhi’s ability to deliver victories. Two, there is an organisational crisis where internal channels to express and resolve grievances have collapsed and the leadership structure is unclear. Three, there are unfulfilled personal ambitions, including of the dissenters, which have now led them to speak up. And four, there is jostling to position oneself for possible elections to the Congress Working Committee and other positions.
If this rift in the Congress leads to a stronger opposition, it is good for democracy. But the challenge for the challengers is that they seem to lack the mass base outside the party and internal strength within the party to force a change in leadership. The party establishment has co-opted a set of G23 leaders. At the same time, the Congress leadership should recognise that its real challenge is not the dissenters, but the party’s failure to win the confidence of citizens in elections.