For all those who had turned sceptical about the Congress party’s ability to mobilise on the streets, scenes from New Delhi and various state capitals on Monday may have come as a surprise — Congress cadres led by senior leaders were out protesting and risking arrest over the Enforcement Directorate summons to MP from Wayanad, Rahul Gandhi, in The National Herald money laundering case. But the sight and sound show put up by the Congress on Monday was also a confession: It takes a perceived insult to the leader, it seems, for the grand old party to rouse itself from its political slumber and complacency. Among the several detained leaders were seniors like Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, and Congress parliamentary party leaders in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
The spectacle leaves behind a question for the Congress to answer: Is the ED notice to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi the most important or compelling event to mount a nation-wide mobilisation, especially since the party’s silence has rung out loud and clear on other issues that have given the Opposition ample opportunity to target the BJP-led government — for instance, the Nupur Sharma fiasco, the illegal use of bulldozers against protesters, elevated inflation. In this, the Congress would seem to bear a resemblance to the BSP, which is otherwise a very different party. The BSP, too, feels provoked to come out on the streets only to protest slights, real and imagined, to its top leader. In recent times, the Congress appears to be restricting its political reactions on consequential issues to tweets, press conferences and seminars by Rahul Gandhi, except in a state like Kerala, where its state unit has announced its ambition to become a “semi-cadre” party.
The Congress’s ongoing shrinking has consequences, not just for its own political fortunes, but also in the wider space of the Opposition. The breakaway “Congress” parties have been quick to spot the opportunity and are already jostling to position themselves to claim the pivotal position in the fight against the BJP. TMC chief Mamata Banerjee’s move to convene an Opposition conclave to discuss the impending presidential election immediately after a similar outreach by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is illustrative. The recent Rajya Sabha polls further exposed the Congress’s inability to win friends. In this backdrop, the ED notice to the Gandhis that the Congress is so agitated about is unlikely to help provide the missing glue for a fragmenting Opposition — at a time when it needs it most.