Which Garlic Congress? Sycophancy and complacency, say leaders
Premchand Singh, 63, from Punjab, joined the Congress Party when he was 20 years old. A great admirer of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Singh’s foray into the party was to serve those in need. Over the years, until his death in 1984, Singh was a regular at the political rallies the late leader addressed. He admits to being first a Gandhi loyalist and then a member of Congress. During the 43 years of his political career, he worshiped the Gandhis. He is saddened by the very vocal calls for them to leave the Congress Party. “If they leave Congress, I will never vote in any election,” Singh told Outlook.
Can there be a Congress Party without its most identifiable symbols – the Gandhis? Following the Congress Party’s embarrassing performance in the just-concluded 2022 Assembly Polls in Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Punjab, the impact of the Gandhis’ continuation on the party’s fortunes has become a topic hotly debated by members of Congress who are for or against the leadership. Although the octaves of dissent are growing, no concrete solution has yet emerged from it, sources said.
The party must be ready for battle, drive aggression back into its ranks, boost its credibility factor and tackle dissent within, if it is to control the narrative. The Congress Party faces a more difficult challenge, that of proving that it has not become a handicap for the opposition. The polls debacle scared ordinary congressional workers like Singh. It will be a daunting task for the party to contain an exodus from its ranks to other political parties, sources said.
A statement released by the CWC after its post-election meeting said, “The Congress Party represents the hopes of millions of Indians against the political authoritarianism prevalent in the country today and the party is fully aware of its immense responsibility. The Congress Party will be fully prepared to face the electoral challenges in the contending states in 2022, 2023 as well as the Lok Sabha elections in 2024”. When it comes to the existential question of the party, statements like these ring hollow among party men.
Two years ago, a group of 23 party leaders – later to become known as the G-23 – wrote to Sonia Gandhi demanding major organizational changes to the party, including a leadership overhaul. They were sidelined and their dissent rejected.
A senior leader who is part of the G-23 told Outlook that all AICC officers must resign immediately. “New members should be appointed in their place. It should be a thorough exercise. The party high command must speak to the dissident leaders and find out the reasons for their dissatisfaction. They shouldn’t be allowed to leave. The party must forge regional alliances and be part of a strong opposition alliance. The Congress Party must learn to be part of a whole. We can’t waste even a day,” the leader said.
According to another senior party leader, “We are clear that Rahul and Priyanka should not be involved in leadership roles within the party. Pause, learn, then come back to lead. Don’t lead and then learn on the job. Both are shouting against the top party leaders in a very humiliating way. Gandhis must adapt to current changes if they are to lead from the front.
The popular opinion is that Rahul needs to step out of the limelight and get down to business as a party animal. The leaders felt that the BJP had managed to erase its image by their stories which include the nickname “Pappu”, the image of a disinterested politician, lack of understanding of tough politics and poor communication skills. It left a lasting impression on the minds of the electorate, sources said.
Staying out of the spotlight for a long time will erase his negative image in the minds of the public, the source said. Rahul’s long spells of absenteeism and mysterious vacations have also received their share of criticism within the party, sources said. “Leaders must immediately address this crisis. Soniaji cannot continue to protect the political incompetence of her children. The present situation of the party is due to the fact that Soniaji hides the faults of his children. Both have also failed as leaders, so why don’t they quit? Soniaji must also ask for their resignation,” another executive told Outlook.
In the 22 years Sonia Gandhi led the Congress Party, the party won numerous polls, including general elections. However, in recent years it has been unable to stem the decline of the party. Senior leaders told Outlook that growing discontent within the party base was not being addressed. Concrete solutions must be found, said one leader. “Navjot Singh Sidhu had issues with Amarinder Singh as well as Charanjit Channi. Yet he was allowed to destroy the party in Punjab. Even Harish Rawat was treated with kid gloves. Today these two killed the party in two states where we could have won the election,” the leader said. In the two states – Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh – where the party is in power, infighting is very visible and needs to be resolved.
In Uttarakhand, the Congress Party’s perception that anti-incumbency would hit the BJP hard took a hit after the latter was re-elected to power. The result sealed the fate of former chief minister Harish Rawat for another five years. He faces the wrath of his party men and senior leaders who blame him for the party’s debacle. Rawat had been appointed as the Congress Party’s campaign manager in Uttarakhand and was the responsible party in Punjab – the two states where he suffered humiliating defeats.
Insiders confirm that Rawat was instructed by AICC General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to remove Captain Amarinder Singh as CM of Punjab, a mistake which negatively impacted the electorate. Rawat is accused by his party men of “sinking the Congress ship” and “selling party tickets”. The allegations say he took advantage of giving tickets to five candidates who were “adjusted” to various constituencies. “The displacement of the candidates at the last moment had sent the wrong signal to the State. Rawat also contested from Lalkuwa instead of his traditional seat of Rampur. Leaders who had maintained their seats for the past four years should have received the tickets,” said Pritam Singh, former Congress Party leader in Uttarakhand and fifth-time winner of the Chakrata assembly constituency.
Incumbent Congress Party Chairman Ranjit Rawat was also transferred from Rampur to Salt to Almora, where he lost the election. It didn’t stop here. Rawat took to social media and questioned the identities of party leaders who had “patronized” an official, Mohammed Aquil, who had demanded the establishment of a Muslim university. This demand was used as a weapon by the BJP-RSS cartel to whip the Congress Party. The party’s Uttarakhand unit is in disarray.
The Congress Party is expected to choose a new leader from the 18-member Congress Legislative Party (CLP). The fact remains that leaders like Pritam Singh – who was appointed leader of the PLC in the past – have been sidelined by Rawat. In 2016, the Rawat government was toppled by the defections of nine of the party’s MPs as they were unhappy with the former’s style of operation, sources said. Dehra-dun-based Senior Reporter Jay Singh Rawat said, “Aam Aadmi party has not done well in Uttarakhand at present as it was focused on Punjab. If the Congress high command continues to leave things as they are in Uttarakhand, the AAP will certainly make a serious offer in the next elections.
The defeat in Uttar Pradesh chilled the spirits of those who thought Priyanka’s entry into the state would inject new energy into the party. She had emphasized women, coined the slogan “Ladki hoon Lad Sakti hoon” and given party tickets to 159 women. However, none of this was intended to bring voters to the party.
Speaking to Outlook, UP Congress leader Ajay Kumar Lallu said he believed in the mandate and would work harder from now on. “We did everything we could. We led the campaign for justice for the victim of Hathras then in Lakhimpur Kheri. We accept the mandate. In a democracy, the people are supreme. We will do some soul-searching and re-campaign on issues that matter to people in the state,” Lallu said.
At one time the Congress Party dominated state politics, but since 1989 it has been unable to form a government in the UP. The party at first failed to challenge the rise of Dalit and OBC politics, then the BJP pushed it out of the game altogether. Rae Bareilly, Lok Sabha constituency of Congress Party Chairwoman Sonia Gandhi , is the barometer to measure the impact of defeat. For decades, the party’s first family had dominated Rae Bareilly and his neighbor Amethi. The Rae Bareilly LS constituency has elected Sonia as its MP since 2004, with Feroze Gandhi and Indira Gandhi winning this seat several times in the past.
Amethi was represented by Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for several terms until BJP’s Smriti Irani beat Rahul from that seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
A day after the G-23 meeting, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who is part of the group, met Rahul Gandhi and briefed him on the situation in the state with suggestions corrective measures. Hooda is locked in a feud with Haryana Congress Party leader Sheilja Kumari, who is seen as close to the Gandhis. A group of 18 Congress Party leaders, made up of a mix of G-23 rebels and newcomers, met on Wednesday night and fought for collective and inclusive leadership, sources said.
Proposed solutions for party revival include choosing to win over empty gestures (such as a ticket to Unnao’s rape victim’s mother when rape is a taboo), aggressive rerouting of the party from the level of stand as was done in the past, leaders must be held accountable for losses when credited with victories and sycophancy and complacency must be removed by restructuring the party across the states. There are two centers of power within the party – Sonia and Rahul – and the latter makes the decisions. There should be only one powerpoint. The leaders also felt that the Congress party should reach out to industrialists and businesses that do not contribute to the BJP’s election kitty.
The Congress Party failed to counter the BJP’s checkmate moves. As it awaits a new president – a successor to Sonia – which will be in August this year, the BJP is already in electoral mode in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, states which will see assembly polls later in the year. the year.