Just over two months after it suffered its worst ever defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress plunged into serious crisis on Monday. Two senior party leaders in Maharashtra and Assam — both Congress-ruled states — launched an open rebellion against the high command, even as the party grappled with desertions in West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir.
A shocked Congress tried to put up a brave face and claimed that “personal ambitions” were behind the revolts.
Just months ahead of the Maharashtra assembly elections, rebel Congress leader and Industries Minister Narayan Rane resigned from the Prithviraj Chavan ministry on Monday. He said the party had not “honoured its commitment” to make him the Chief Minister. Although Rane has said he will remain with the party, the high command cannot take his revolt lightly as he has considerable influence in the Konkan region.
“I was told I will be made CM in six months. But in nine years, the promise has not been kept… Victory in the coming assembly elections under the CM’s (Chavan’s) leadership is difficult. He has a clean image but decision-making is slow, implementation of decisions already taken is tardy. This affects the people who made known their displeasure in the Lok Sabha polls,” said Rane.
After weeks of infighting within the Assam Congress unit, senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma resigned from the Tarun Gogoi cabinet on Monday. Accompanied by 28 Congress MLAs, Sarma, who has been demanding Gogoi’s removal, went to Raj Bhawan and tendered his resignation. His decision came less than 24 hours after the AICC told him that there was no plan to remove Gogoi.
Sarma’s resignation could even lead to a split in the party. “I had been telling the party high command that the Congress would not win more than four Lok Sabha seats under Gogoi’s leadership. We won only three… now I can say that our tally will come down to a single digit in the next Assembly elections if Gogoi continues to be the CM,” said Sarma.
Meanwhile, 13 ministers of the Gogoi cabinet sent a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi seeking Sarma’s immediate expulsion for violating party discipline.
The bad news did not end with Assam and Maharashtra. The party suffered a severe jolt in West Bengal as three of its MLAs, including Asit Mal, the chief whip of the Congress Legislature Party, joined the Trinamool Congress. The other two MLAs are Umapada Bauri and Ghulam Rabanni.
Mal indicated that more desertions were likely. “It is for the development of the state, which we believe can be done by Mamata Di only. More MLAs and workers from the party are going to join the TMC as it is the party which is engaged in building the future of the state,” he said.
The development raises questions about state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s ability to keep the flock together. While many party leaders blamed him, Chowdhury said, “Those who are leaving are going for their own interests. But Congress is a big institution and these betrayals do not affect it.”
In Jammu and Kashmir, senior party leader and two-time MP from Udhampur, Chowdhary Lal Singh, quit the party a day after the Congress and National Conference decided to part ways. Singh said he felt suffocated as the party was “dominated by people who were cheats, manipulators and stabbers’’.
Singh was denied a ticket for the Lok Sabha polls, while former union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad contested from Udhampur. Saying that Azad was a “backstabber’’ and “manipulator’’, Singh said, “The Congress cannot be strengthened unless Sonia and Rahul Gandhi show the door to people like Azad who do not allow honest and dedicated people to come up in the organisation.”
The revolts and desertions have come as a jolt to the Congress which is yet to recover from its shock defeat. While it had set up a committee under A K Antony to look into the reasons for its defeat and suggest the way ahead, there is no direction yet from the top leadership on a revival plan.
There was talk of a “chintan shivir” or an extended AICC session after the defeat, but both Sonia and Rahul have not spoken on this. Party leaders say they don’t expect anything significant from the Antony panel or foresee any major changes.
Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said Rane and Sarma’s statements showed that these are “issues of personal ambition” and “personal desire for a post”. He said the party would not bow down.