Updated: June 19, 2021 8:28:39 am
The Congress is visibly in prolonged ferment in Punjab and Rajasthan, two states where the party runs the government. The rebels in Rajasthan who challenged the Ashok Gehlot government a year ago, are turning restive again. In Punjab, headed for election early next year, a section of the party is strident against the chief minister, Amarinder Singh. The political crises in these states have been brewing for a while and they have simmered on largely because the party leadership has let them be, instead of engaging leaders and factions in a purposeful search for solutions. In both states, the CMs, strong leaders in their own right, emboldened by a weakened and perhaps disinterested high command, have sought to impose their will on the dissidents rather than accommodate their concerns.
Singh and Gehlot are political heavyweights who have served the Congress in the legislature and in the organisation for years. They have acquired a profile that in any normal political outfit would allow them to harbour national ambitions. But the centralisation of power in the Gandhi family has, perhaps, kept them confined to their fiefs. When dissidence against Singh threatened to turn into a full blown faction war, party president Sonia Gandhi appointed two panels — to look into the implementation of the promises made in the election manifesto, and to devise ways for better coordination between the organisation and government. But neither panel met even once, after both were constituted in January 2020. The dissidents flagged the same issues to senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is heading a new panel to talk out the differences in the party unit. If Singh has been accused of not being accessible to party leaders and criticised for his alleged over-reliance on bureaucrats in running the government, Gehlot is charged with refusing to share administrative responsibilities with his colleagues. The supporters of Sachin Pilot, who led the revolt against Gehlot last year, are yet to be accommodated in government and organisation while Gehlot presides over all important departments.
The dissidents may not have the numbers to force a showdown at present. However, the open display of differences and the spectacle of a senior CM being summoned by the high command, to make his case, does no credit to the party. It is, of course, a tried and tested strategy of the Congress to set up a panel and seek a report when faced with a crisis it has neither the intent nor the imagination to resolve. But given its weakened position both at the Centre and the states, it may not be a good idea to fall back on old habits.
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