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Dissent within the Congress might get louder after poll debacle

For the Congress it brings home the imperative of setting its house in order regardless of who’s at the helm in the party.
By Vinod Sharma, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 04, 2021 07:35 AM IST
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and party president Sonia Gandhi arrive to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi, May 30, 2019.(Reuters)

The Congress has yet again managed what it has been doing with nerve-wracking continuity---lose elections! Its comeuppance is heightened by the records its rivals set while beating back its late thrusts in Kerala and Assam.

In the states that witnessed direct fights, the Left Democratic Front and the Bharatiya Janata Party broke decades-old hoodoos to retain power. If in Kerala the Marxists-led LDF became the first political formation to win back-to-back, in Assam the BJP is the first non-Congress party to buck anti-incumbency.

Adding insult to the Congress’s injury in Bengal was the tectonic shift in the Opposition space, what with the victorious Trinamool obliterating its Sanjukta Morcha with the Left in their known sub-regional bastions. The default gainer: the otherwise humbled BJP that’ll be the sole opposition in the new assembly where the indefatigable Mamata Banerjee will sit as a third-time chief minister.

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The electorate retained rather than changed governments in three of the four assembly elections. In the big picture too, the Congress remained a speck. Its sole consolation, if it can be so described, was that of having a minority stake in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front that won Tamil Nadu. There was no respite from bad news in the nearby Puducherry, where an uneasy Congress-DMK front got consigned to the margins, lending the BJP a toehold in partnership with the All India N Rangaswamy Congress (AINRC).

The pandemic the country’s battling in the aftermath of the polls robbed the results of their conventional sheen. That brings home the urgency for the incumbent-victors in Bengal, Assam and Kerala to prove their mettle in combating the virus--- to live down the infamy of contributing to its spread with rampant violations of Covid protocols during the campaign.

“Our writ won’t run if the pandemic rages unremittingly and we fail to reach people the relief they need,” conceded a Trinamool MP from Bengal.

Disinclined to be named, he was unambiguous that the poll mandate will be incomplete without a win against the rampaging SARS-CoV-2. “Our ability to govern will be on test from the very start,” concurred a DMK legislator. Albeit a newcomer to the chief minister’s office, MK Stalin will have to hit the ground running.

If they deliver crisis-time governance in their states, they’d be heard with respect in Delhi. Be that as it may, the election outcome is bound to see the DMK and the Trinamool play a bigger role in Parliament, and thereby national politics, in any Opposition conjoint against the BJP--- which has its back to the wall in the face of all-round despair wrought by the pandemic.

For the Congress it brings home the imperative of setting its house in order regardless of who’s at the helm in the party. Rahul Gandhi undoubtedly was the only leader who consistently warned the Narendra Modi regime of the grave risks the pandemic posed to public health and the economy. But the Congress’s defeats in Assam and Kerala --the state he represents in Parliament—have impacted his leadership prospects in the faction-ridden party. In Kerala the party’s “big failure” cannot even be attributed to the kind of communal polarisation it countenanced in Assam.

“The party workers will decide the leadership question. I’d play whatever role is assigned to me,” Gandhi said while supporting organisational polls in an interview to PTI-Bhasha on the eve of the election results that have since brought gloom to Congress circles.

In January, the Congress Working Committee resolved to have the new party president in office by June; a schedule that’ll require reworking if the ongoing second wave of Covid lasts longer. But the big question is whether Gandhi will go by the workers’ demand (which isn’t difficult to orchestrate) after having led the party to defeat in states where it was in the reckoning?

Pro-changers within the Congress have long held a view, at least privately, that Gandhi lacks the temperament and the “political timber” to lead the party towards the change it wants to see--- which is to become a credible alternative to the BJP. They agree that in the organisational set-up, he’d win if he decides to contest.

One will have to wait to see how the dichotomy pans out in the run-up to the proposed in-house changes. The possibility of dissent getting louder is real!

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