The faultlines that emerged in the Congress, after the humiliating defeat in UP and Uttarakhand, widened Wednesday as two former UPA ministers hit out at the leadership over a culture of “sycophancy” coming in the way of grooming leaders. Former tribal affairs and panchayati raj minister Kishore Chandra Deo said that AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi has to get rid of “a dozen people” around him to “survive”. And, former law minister Ashwani Kumar said the party should candidly accept that mistakes have been made and show willingness to atone for them — “wherever the responsibility lies”.
In Mumbai, former party MP Priya Dutt said the Congress suffers from an “auto immune disease” and that everyone from within should try to rebuild the organisation. Speaking to The Indian Express, Congress leader Deo said that the party was “heavily depending on a dozen people who, for all practical purposes, have no accountability”.
“Many of them have also developed certain personal likes and dislikes at the expense of the party. They have been continuing in important positions. The same people keep playing musical chairs and are put in charge from one state to another. You take the list of states these people have been in charge of and in most, the Congress has lost,” he said. Asked if Rahul was aware of this, he said, “Of course, he knows. He has mentioned it in party meetings.”
Questioned why the AICC vice-president had not taken any action, Deo said, “It is not a million-dollar question but a billion-dollar question.” Ashwani Kumar, when asked if it was time to look beyond Rahul, said, “All I can say is that this is the greatest ever threat that the Congress has faced to its relevance as a national political party, and everything that is necessary needs to be considered.”
Asked whether if that included replacing Rahul, he said, “I have said what I wanted to say.” “All that the Congress needs to do is to put into motion a process which will be able to throw up leadership at various levels. When you confuse sycophancy for loyalty, you don’t create leaders. When intellect is at a discount, you can’t make a great party,” Kumar told The Indian Express.
Deo, meanwhile, pointed out that the new Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh was a former Congressman. “The same thing happened in Arunachal Pradesh. When these things happen, what are those in charge doing? What are they advising?” he asked. Citing the examples of Congress rebels Vijay Bahuguna in Uttarakhand and Rita Bahuguna Joshi in UP, Deo said, “People who you make PCC presidents and chief ministers, once they are out of the post, they go and join a party which is ideologically totally opposed to yours. So what kind of choices are these? Who made these choices?”
Asked if the party would be able to regain its stature under Rahul’s leadership, Deo said, “It is not important whether it is Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi or some other Gandhi. I will put a counter question to you. Can Rahul get rid of these people around him? If he can, he will survive. Otherwise he will also have to face the same music. It is very clear.” Ashwani Kumar said the scale of the defeat in Uttarakhand and UP, and the rise of the BJP in Manipur made it absolutely imperative for the party to go beyond platitudes. “The surgery or introspection needs to delve deeper into one single issue. Why is it that the Congress party could not generate a set of leaders across the country?”
Kumar said that the introspection, if it happens, should be translated into action. “Merely analysing on a theoretical basis is not enough,” he said. “Democratic elections is about leadership. It is about bonding. It is about emotions, it is about connect with the people. These are the issues that need to be gone into rather than being satisfied by a game of musical chairs,” said Kumar.
“There are leaders who are capable of creating a popular sentiment and there are leaders who are capable of identifying the popular sentiment and riding the crest of that sentiment. That is what leadership is all about,” he said. Deo, meanwhile, citied the cases of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to say that “the people who finished off Congress are still in charge over there”. “If they are sending the same people to finish off the party in one state after another. If this kind of a thing goes on, it will be very difficult for the party to come up,” he said.
Pointing to the recent civic elections in Odisha, Deo said that the Congress was inactive and the central leadership took no interest. “There was a strong sentiment against Naveen Patnaik and the BJD government. The Congress people said that our party is not interested in defeating him. Many asked me if there was an unwritten understanding between Patnaik and our party. When they saw our party’s inertia, many of them decided to go with the BJP to teach Patnaik a lesson,” said Deo.
“In Andhra, there is a very strong resentment against Chandrababu Naidu. People are also not enamoured of Jagan Mohan Reddy. But if my people in charge from Delhi and in the state are totally sold out to Jagan, how do you expect the party to grow there? Every state has this kind of a particular situation where the party is decimated everyday,” Deo alleged. Former MP Dutt said that the party had to treated “from within”. “Congress has shown repeatedly that it suffers from an auto immune disease. Congress destroys Congress. we need to be treated from within to be healthy again,” she said.