Needed, a mahagatbandhan of Congress factions
The Congress has always believed in standing divided -- each leader fights only for his faction, never unites for his or her party, unlike the BJP or the Sena where workers know to set aside their differences and close ranks at crucial electionsmumbai Updated: Jan 24, 2017 14:23 IST
Slightly over a year ago when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, in a room full of journalists, chose to “forget” an alleged transgression by city Congress president Sanjay Nirupam and said “move on”, many senior Congress leaders present on the occasion did not seem to relish his magnanimous attitude towards one they regard as a parvenu.
Just a month ago, the party mouthpiece, Congress Darshan, had published an article that compared Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru rather unfavourably with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Nirupam was the editor of the magazine, but the article had escaped his notice and created quite a stir in party circles. Amid speculation that somehow a BJP mole had got into the editorial team of Congress Darshan, a section of the Congress leadership investigated the case and came to the conclusion that even if the latter was true, the story had been leaked to the media by their own leaders who detested Nirupam and wished to derail his concerted bid to win the 2017 civic polls.
So around four months ago, Gandhi sent for all leading names in his party from the city and asked them to sink their differences and fight unitedly to win the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections. Very few, however, could forget those differences. While the younger leaders have kept their reservations about Nirupam under wraps or on occasions even co-operated with him – like joining his campaign or addressing a press conference together -- the senior lot has not agreed with Nirupam’s way of going about with the elections.
So when, following the lead of the Congress in Bihar in November 2015 and Uttar Pradesh now, there were suggestions that the party should form a “mahagatbandhan” of all like-minded parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Communist parties and the various factions of the Republican Party of India to win the civic polls, some sections of Congressmen themselves wryly said, “We first need a mahagatbandhan of our own factions. Only then can we think of winning the polls.”
Those faction fights are now erupting even more virulently as the polls draw closer, necessitating Gandhi to send former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Hooda to work out a truce between the various warring groups. Nirupam is hated not only for being an outsider, but also for his style of functioning -- some senior Congressmen are upset that he addresses small corner meetings of 200 or fewer people, whereas they believe the meetings should be huge and grand -- for example like Sonia Gandhi’s meetings at Shivaji Park ahead of civic polls a decade ago.
However, in 2007, the Congress was in power both at the Centre and in the state and it might have been far easier then to rally the crowds for the party. I do not believe Nirupam has either the resources or the charisma for such big shows and, in any case, not many are enamoured with the Congress as they may have been even half-a-decade ago – and even then the Congress lost the civic polls. So he must do what works best with parties struggling to keep their necks above water – small nukkad meetings as even Rajiv Gandhi had taken to doing after his party’s defeat in 1989.
But the Congress did not do too badly at the 1990 Assembly polls, despite such corner meetings and formed the government again in Maharashtra with Sharad Pawar as the chief minister. Rajiv was tragically assassinated the next year, but I recall he had kept up his nukkad sabhas believing small, cosier meetings helped him to connect better with the people than meetings at large grounds like the Shivaji Park might.
Nirupam, of course, is no Rajiv Gandhi, but in this rather ego-centric and silly battle one must not forget that hugely crowded meetings do not necessarily win any party either the corporation or the Assembly or even general elections and the Congress stock currently is not too high to even attempt a middling sized one at this juncture.
So what will Hooda achieve that Gandhi couldn’t? The Congress has always believed in standing divided -- each leader fights only for his faction, never unites for his or her party, unlike the BJP or the Sena where workers know to set aside their differences and close ranks at crucial elections. More than a Hooda or a Gandhi, perhaps a God is now needed to keep the Congress from self-combusting and burning whatever remains of the party to cinders.