Congress moves to set its house in order in MP but hurdles remain
Twenty-two legislators loyal to Scindia also quit the Congress and resigned from the assembly, resulting in the fall of the Kamal Nath governmentUpdated: May 18, 2020 19:39 IST
Nearly two months after it lost power in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has started restructuring and is drafting a strategy to take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in crucial by-elections to 24 assembly seats later this year despite no let-up in internal strife.
The process started with Congress president Sonia Gandhi accepting the resignation of Deepak Babaria, the general secretary in-charge of Madhya Pradesh, and naming senior leader Mukul Wasnik as his replacement last month.
Babaria, who hailed from Gujarat and was considered close to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, cited ill-health as the reason for his resignation.
But his exit was inevitable after former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia quit the Congress to join the BJP in March. Scindia had repeatedly flagged his concerns about the Congress government’s failure to implement the party manifesto or pre-poll promises.
Twenty-two legislators loyal to Scindia also quit the Congress and resigned from the assembly, resulting in the fall of the Kamal Nath government. BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan then took oath as chief minister for the fourth term.
As Congress general secretary, Wasnik also oversees party affairs in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Soon after he assumed the charge of Madhya Pradesh, two new secretaries were named to assist him.
CP Mittal, who hails from Delhi, and Kuldeep Indora, a party leader from Rajasthan, were appointed as All India Congress Committee (AICC) secretaries. Both are said to be close to Wasnik.
Mittal and Indora replaced Varsha Gaikwad and Harshvardhan Sapkal, while the Congress chief retained Sudhanshu Tripathi and Sanjay Kapoor as the two other AICC secretaries.
Wasnik’s immediate challenges are to set the party house in order, try to end factionalism and prepare for crucial by-elections, whenever they are held.
Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh familiar with developments said he had chalked out a plan for the by-polls and started working on it though hurdles remain.
Of the 24 seats in which by-elections will be held, 16 are in Gwalior-Chambal region, a stronghold of Scindia.
Wasnik is facing a tough task in appointing a Congress legislature party (CLP) leader who will also be leader of opposition (LoP) in the Madhya Pradesh assembly.
A Congress functionary said the party had almost finalised the name of senior leader Govind Singh, a close associate of former chief minister Digvijaya Singh, but the move was stalled due to opposition from the Kamal Nath camp, which is pushing the names of Sajjan Verma and Bala Bachchan.
Wasnik is expected to take a call on the LoP soon.
But the BJP has taken a dig at the Congress and appears confident of winning the by-elections in all 24 seats. “The Congress continues to be a divided house. They are yet to decide the name of the LoP. The infighting between the Digvijay and Kamal Nath camps is on. They have lost everything but have not yet learned the lesson,” said BJP leader Pankaj Chaturvedi.
“We will win the by-elections on all the 24 seats and provide a stable government,” he added.
Congress leaders have blamed Babaria for his “failure” to resolve internal dissension in the Madhya Pradesh unit, which eventually resulted in the loss of power that the party had regained after 15 years by ousting the BJP in the 2018 assembly elections.
Wasnik was one of the front-runners for the Congress president’s post last year after Rahul Gandhi refused to take back his resignation in the wake of the party’s drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when it won just 52 seats in the 543-member House against the BJP’s tally of 303.
However, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in its meeting on August 10 last year prevailed on Sonia Gandhi to again assume the reins of the grand old party.