The resignation of E.V.K.S. Elangovan as state unit head has ominous implications for the Congress in Tamil Nadu. Elangovan stated that he quit over the party’s less than impressive performance in the recent assembly elections. However, it is being said that he disagreed with Rahul Gandhi on the strategy for revival. In alliance with the DMK, the Congress won only eight of the 41 seats it contested, three up from its tally in 2011. Elangovan had pushed for the alliance, overruling the central leadership’s scepticism, but his detractors claim that he had failed to negotiate more seats, and winnable ones, from the Dravidian major. Also, he could not ensure that the party won most of the seats it contested, which the central leadership read as a failure of the state unit.
The ambitions of the Congress leadership are hardly in sync with the ground reality in Tamil Nadu: The party is a pale shadow of what it used to be in the state. Since it lost office to the DMK in 1967, it has gone steadily downhill, losing cadres and leaders. The party, however, managed to send MPs to Parliament by negotiating alliances with the DMK and the AIADMK. The large contingent of Congress MPs that Tamil Nadu sent to the Lok Sabha until recently distracted attention from the fact that the party had been reduced to a rump in the state. Having been out of office in the state for nearly half a century, its “tall” leaders preferred the comfort zone of national politics, which offered office and stature.
Leaders like C. Subramaniam and R. Venkataraman in the 1970s, and P. Chidambaram in recent years, have had impressive tenures at the Centre, but the Tamil Nadu unit was left in the hands of backroom managers, who failed to retrieve lost ground. While the party fragmented into numerous factions, the central leadership, clueless about the state, played musical chairs with the state leadership. Since the mid-1990s, TNPCC has had numerous state heads, with none allowed to hold office for more than two or three years. An insecure central leadership played the factions, while the party became a caricature of its old self.
Elangovan had energised the Congress in Tamil Nadu, but the party must prepare a roadmap and persevere with it — as the BJP has done in many states — if it wants to revive. Frequent meddling by the high command in the states is unlikely to help.