The Congress is facing an existential crisis in many states where once it was an undisputed leader. Kerala, West Bengal, Puducherry, Assam, and Gujarat are some of the states where the party has failed to even make its presence felt while states like Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Punjab are ridden with factionalism and internal rifts. While at the grassroots and state level, the party has been facing a continuous exodus, its leadership level crisis is yet to be resolved with the demand of G 23 members calling for reforms and the party deferring its president election due to COVID-19.
The Congress was due to elect a full-fledged party president by June=end. However, the CWC in its meeting held on May 10 deferred the election citing the second wave of COVID-19. The party also did not fix a timeline for the next election.
Sonia Gandhi took over as the interim Congress president in August 2019 after Rahul Gandhi resigned in the wake of the party’s Lok Sabha debacle in May 2019. On the other hand, the party has failed to keep its flock united and disciplined in several states.
In Assam, the party saw four-time MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi resign slamming the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. In Uttar Pradesh, it saw political heavyweight Jitin Prasada leaving the Congress to join the BJP ahead of the crucial assembly election next year. In Delhi, it saw Pradesh Mahila Congress general-secretary Parveena Sharma and 40 other workers join the BJP.
In Punjab, it’s struggling hard to resolve an intensifying internal rift with MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu and MP Pratap Singh Bajwa openly criticising CM Capt Amarinder Singh. In Karnataka, DK Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah are indirectly competing for the post of chief minister with a faction of MLAs supporting Shivakumar and some proposing the name of Siddaramaiah. In Chhattisgarh, the party has been reportedly divided into two factions with each supporting Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Health Minister T S Singhdeo respectively. It was reported that Baghel was made CM based on a two-and-half-year chief ministership formula and TS Singhdeo was supposed to take over after the government completed half the term. But that did not happen. Now, the vaccine certificate in Chhattisgarh sported photos of Baghel and Singhdeo but referred to both as CM of the state. While health department officials blamed it on negligence, the opposition has blamed the faux pas on factionalism within the party.
The party had already been deserted by sitting MLAs, be in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Goa or Karnataka that resulted in it losing power in MP, and Karnataka while its seats were drastically reduced in Gujarat.
The recent cases of Uttarakhand and Assam stand in stark contrast to the working style of the BJP and the Congress. In Uttarakhand, a majority of the party MLAs were unhappy with former CM Trivendra Singh Rawat. The BJP agreed to their demands and replaced the CM. In Assam, when Himanta Biswa Sarma in 2015 approached Rahul Gandhi seeking change in leadership, he was turned down. He later resigned and wrote to Sonia Gandhi, “There is a great dearth of inner-party democracy in Congress. When I had humbly told Sri Rahul Gandhi that in front of central observers, 52 MLAs out of 79 had categorically and emphatically sought the ouster of Sr Tarun Gogoi, he answered me so arrogantly that it was his prerogative to change Chief Minister,” he had said in his letter.
Today, Congress is out of power in Assam for the second consecutive term and no one can rule out Sarma’s hand behind it. This shows that the party needs to work on its decision-making process.
While states like Uttar Pradesh, Himachal, Punjab, Goa, Gujarat, Manipur and Uttarakhand will go to the polls next year, the BJP has already started its preparation to overshadow the negativity brought to the fore by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its party workers have already started working on the plan to take the government’s positive steps/schemes to the masses, the Congress is still struggling to placate dissenters and set its house in order.
The party’s weak performance in the recently held assembly elections across Kerala, Assam, West Bengal, and Puducherry have also led to internal turmoil with several leaders questioning the party’s decisions related to alliance and candidate selection. While the saffron party is leaving no stone unturned to turn the tide in its favour, the Congress, being the opposition flag bearer, needs to step up its game with solid leadership at the top to counter the BJP’s ever-growing might. As crucial elections approach in less than a year, the sooner it acts, the better it will be.