The fiasco of Kamal Nath’s appointment as party in-charge of Punjab and his subsequent resignation is yet another indication of the continuing cluelessness of the Congress high command. True, no commission of inquiry has indicted Nath for involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. But politics is also a perceptions game and his role in that dark period in Delhi is still seen to be controversial. With Punjab headed for assembly elections next year and parties looking for campaign issues, the choice of Kamal Nath for the post was bound to make news for the wrong reasons. With the Akalis and the AAP ratcheting up the rhetoric, jittery state Congress leaders made it clear that the high command had got it terribly wrong, forcing it to roll back its decision.
But Punjab is only the latest instance of the Congress high command heaping embarrassment upon itself. Earlier this month, seven of the party’s 10 MLAs in Tripura resigned — six of them joined the Trinamool Congress. The party has not just lost its status as the opposition party but now faces the prospect of finishing behind the CPM, Trinamool and the BJP. In Telangana, the Congress has been losing legislators and leaders to the TRS with alarming frequency while Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress has near swallowed the Congress in Andhra. In a region where the party looked unassailable until recently, the Congress is facing extinction. When Congress Working Committee member and former chief minister of Chhattisgarh, Ajit Jogi, announced his decision to quit the Congress last week, he attributed it to a lack of response from the party leadership to his grievances.
The disconnect between the central leadership and state leaders has come up each and every time senior party functionaries have quit the party, in Assam, Uttarakhand or Tripura. Party managers seem incapable of spotting or resolving dissent, disgruntlement and rebellion in the state units. The rampant cross-voting among Congress MLAs in the recent Rajya Sabha elections further exemplifies this trend. Unable to articulate a clear political or ideological vision and build an organisation around it, the Congress has become dependent mostly on jaded leaders, whose mass connect is questionable, and who prevent the rise of young and new leaders.