Updated: November 26, 2021 9:35:05 am
After the Indian National Congress (INC) split in 1969, the faction that rebelled against the official group emerged as the claimant to the legacy of the party that led the independence struggle. In a short span of time, Indira Gandhi, who walked out of the official INC, became the face of the Congress whereas the Congress (Organisation) led by the party’s old guard faded away. In recent times in many states, splinter groups of the Congress have walked away with the vote base and legacy of India’s Grand Old Party. For example, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal, YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra are essentially regional Congresses that have drawn their leaders, cadres and even social agendas from the old INC. Their growth has been at the expense of the official Congress. As their leaders develop national ambitions, the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress will feel the squeeze. The split in Meghalaya Congress legislative party and the outflow of Congress leaders in Tripura, Goa etc into the TMC suggests a churn within the Congress.
Her spectacular win in West Bengal assembly elections has pitchforked TMC chief Mamata Banerjee into national imagination as a potential leader of the Opposition. The disarray in the Congress since Rahul Gandhi quit as party president after the 2019 general election has influenced many Congressmen and opposition figures to discover a steely leader in Mamata. Two factors have aided the rise of TMC outside West Bengal. One, the failure of the Congress leadership, namely the Gandhis, to address the organisational stasis, energise the cadre and lead the charge against the ruling dispensation. Two, the question mark over the Gandhis’ ability to pose an electoral challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his press conference after leaving the Congress, the rebel group leader, Mukul Sangma, a two-time CM of Meghalaya, indicated that he visited the Delhi leadership multiple times to resolve issues within the party but failed to find redress. Clearly, the party now seems to lack efficient managers and interlocutors to engage with disgruntled leaders and workers. Since the advent of the party high command in the 1970s, Congressmen have looked up to it not just for leadership, but also for guidance and patronage. Independent-minded leaders float their own outfits and leave the Congress whereas others rally behind more charismatic leaders.
True, the Congress showed imagination in replacing Amarinder Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi as CM in Punjab and in installing a more inclusive ministry in Rajasthan. However, these interventions look like firefighting measures rather than a coherent narrative of revival. Barring Sangma, none of the new entrants to the TMC are crowd-pullers, of course. But the exits from the Congress underline that the party needs to work harder on what is its value proposition.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on November 26, 2021 under the title ‘Congress as target’.
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