The Congress leadership allowed dissension in the party to blow up into a full-scale rebellion against Chief Minister Harish Rawat in Uttarakhand. The Congress leadership has blamed the BJP for playing mischief — rebel Congressmen have reportedly been hosted by BJP leaders in Gurgaon. But the party cannot escape the fact that the crisis stems primarily from its own mismanagement of the situation in the state. It should embarrass the Congress that the Uttarakhand crisis has come less than six months after the party lost its government in Arunachal Pradesh due to internal rebellion. What both crises also show is the negotiating skills of Congress managers gone missing.
The mess in Uttarakhand can be traced to the Congress leadership’s decision to impose Vijay Bahuguna, the leader of the rebel faction now, on the legislature party after the 2012 assembly election. Though short of a simple majority in the House, the Congress had won one seat more than the BJP. But the party leadership chose the inexperienced Bahuguna, who had not even contested the election, and whose only claim to leadership appeared to be his family legacy and closeness to the Gandhi family, to lead a minority government. Two years later, he was replaced by Rawat, who, in turn, refused to accommodate leaders perceived close to Bahuguna in the government. By all accounts, the Congress high command ignored the mounting disquiet in the party and gave a free hand to Rawat. Such decentralisation of authority, unheard of in the Congress, seems to have become the norm in recent years. Unfortunately, however, the retreat of the high command has not led to a democratisation of the organisation but only emboldened state chiefs to act in undemocratic ways. As a result, the Congress in Assam and Arunachal in recent months — and in Tamil Nadu soon after the 2014 general election — has seen the exit of powerful factions.
The Uttarakhand episode also frames the return of the spectacle of “horse-trading”. The passing of the anti-defection law in the 1980s had limited the options for rebel MLAs to jump parties or for the latter to incite rebellion. The Aya Rams and Gaya Rams are no more lone rangers but form a pact to evade the law.