Anand Sharma is the latest Congress veteran to complain of being sidelined after Ghulam Nabi Azad, Manish Tewari, Kapil Sibal and others. 'No one communicates' is the common refrain and quite possibly the root of all that ails the Congress
The Congress leadership is busy these days giving final shape to the grand and ambitious 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' scheduled to begin on September 7 from Kanyakumari. The yatra, to be launched by Rahul Gandhi, will cover 3,500 kms to reach Kashmir. The aim here is to touch the areas where Congress has little to no presence. The slogan is to unite for one India.
Quite the irony considering that Congress could do with some push for unity in its own ranks.
Anand Sharma, a party veteran and one of the staunchest supporters of the Gandhi family, set off panic alarms in the Congress corridors with a series of tweets in which he complained of being side-lined and ignored for meetings. He also resigned from the chairmanship of the party's steering committee for Himachal Pradesh ahead of the elections.
State in-charge Rajiv Shukla, after a brief meeting with interim party president Sonia Gandhi, was rushed off to placate Sharma and assured the former Union minister that his advice would be heeded to in the election strategy for Himachal Pradesh.
But the issue was never about any one state election. Many seniors in the party feel left out as Congress tries to sport a 'younger look' under Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Many of these seniors are part of the Group of 23, or G23, within the party that has been vocal in demanding an organisational overhaul. Having seen the Congress through successful elections and tenures in 2004 and 2009, they feel they are being elbowed out by the Rahul and Priyanka camps.
Anand Sharma's public outburst follows another embarrassment for Congress. Party heavyweight Ghulam Nabi Azad and his supporters recently resigned from the strategy committee for Kashmir, that too at a time when the Congress is struggling to stay afloat and relevant in the Valley. Like Anand Sharma, Azad too complained of never being consulted on important matters, a charge denied by the party.
It's not that attempts haven't been made to involve the G23 seniors in party affairs and strategies. But these have been feeble and few.
Manish Tewari was seen at the Congress protests against price rise during the recent Parliament session, but the former Information and Broadcasting minister is yet to address a press conference of late. The Congress claims that the Sri Anandpur Sahib MP has refused to address the media, but the fact is that the contradictory stand taken by Tewari, most notably on the Agnipath issue, has made it difficult for the party to 'accept' him completely.
Even Kapil Sibal, who has and continues to represent Congress leaders in court cases, has complained that when it comes to brainstorming on the party's positions on crucial issues, there is no consultation or directive. "No one communicates" has been the refrain.
Congress boasts of several high-profile leaders in many states. But they are warring and a weak Gandhi leadership is unable to strike a balance. The result is either simmering discontent that shows in election results or the departure of big names. For instance, in Haryana, the Gandhis realised that the Hoodas cannot be ignored, but a free hand to them has meant the side-lining of Kumari Selja, Randeep Surjewala and Kuldeep Bishnoi, who eventually quit to join the BJP.
In Chhattisgarh, political compulsion has forced Rahul Gandhi to go back on his promise of rotating chief ministership between Bhupesh Baghel and TS Singh Deo, leading to the latter quitting his portfolios.
In Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi may have ensured that the birthday bash of Siddaramaiah brought the former CM's camp closer to that of party rival DK Shivakumar, but the camaraderie seemed forced and ominously reminiscent of his Punjab miscalculation. Navjot Singh Sidhu and Charanjit Singh Channi never got along despite the photo-ops and the Congress lost power to the Aam Aadmi Party. Like Karnataka, Rajasthan also poses an unsettled leadership contest between Sachin Pilot and CM Ashok Gehlot.
Congress's failure to put its house in order is only amplified by the AAP's meteoric rise. Fuelled by ambition and hunger – the very elements that seem missing in Congress – AAP has managed to position itself as an alternative in several states.
And Congress is rattled. Despite the criticism that it is hurting Opposition unity, Congress continues to attack the AAP over the CBI raids against Arvind Kejriwal's deputy Manish Sisodia in the Delhi excise policy case. When the Opposition parties signed a memorandum against the Enforcement Directorate raids on TMC leader Partha Chatterjee, the Congress and AAP were the only holdouts.
Before it sets out to tackle all these issues, Congress has to address the big one – who will be party president after Sonia Gandhi? Rahul Gandhi is happy to be projected as the party'