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This article is more than 3 month old.

Punjab quandary: Saga of crisis in Congress continues

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Punjab is one of the few states where the party is in government. Lack of enthusiasm over Captain Amarinder Singh’s stewardship and steady erosion in his popularity led the party central leadership to decide it was time for a change of guard. The replacement with Charanjit Singh Channi demonstrated that the political instincts of the GoP were still alive.

Punjab quandary: Saga of crisis in Congress continues
The Congress party is in a cycle of organisational woes. A few arising from circumstances constructed by others and the rest a result of self-created situations. Tuesday was one such day for the Grand Old Party whose celebratory mood on the association of two young leaders was diluted by developments in Punjab.
Look at series of events, besides Punjab, Goa and Tripura are states where elections are due within the next 18 months witnessed senior leaders crossing over to greener pastures. And in the South comes Kerala, a state that gave the party maximum MP including Rahul Gandhi.
Punjab is one of the few states where the party is in government. Lack of enthusiasm over Captain Amarinder Singh’s stewardship and steady erosion in his popularity led the party central leadership to decide it was time for a change of guard. The replacement with Charanjit Singh Channi demonstrated that the political instincts of the GoP were still alive.
Navjot Sidhu's tantrums
Yet, days after installing a new Chief Minister, the Congress is staring at another situation created by its State Congress Chief Navjot Sidhu, handpicked by the central leadership and entrusted to lead the party where polls are due early next year.
The very public disagreement of Sidhu and steadfast stand against any ‘compromise’ created a piquant situation for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Rahul Gandhi, whose solid support ensured Sidhu’s accession as the helm of the state party unit barely three months ago.
Just when the new government started the process of settling down, Sidhu spoils the broth insisting his stand is a commitment to the people who are sullen over inaction on two most emotive issues, the early conclusion of sacrilege cases and bringing to book those guilty behind police firings.
Sidhu’s belligerent approach offers a tremendous handle to the political opponents on several counts including the commitment of the party to empower the scheduled caste community, the inability of the State Congress Chief to take everyone along, and belying on the trust placed in him by the party central leadership. By raising the issue of compromise, the former BJP-turned Congress leader in effect raises questions about the decision on Channi’s Council of Ministers cleared by the High Command.
Sushmita Deb's exit
Another development that occurred in the East/Northeast came in the form of the exit of former Chief of the Congress Women wing, Sushmita Deb. The former MP and daughter of another party veteran Santosh Mohan Deb decided to join the Trinamool Congress. In a matter of few weeks, the TMC nominated her to Rajya Sabha as the young leader promised to work for her new organisation in Tripura where elections are due around the time Punjab votes.
Besides her family’s connection with the Congress, Sushmita Deb was part of Team Rahul Gandhi and worked closely with the party leader both inside Parliament and outside. Her own move was preceded by two other developments, the son and daughter of former President Pranab Mukherjee drawing distance.
Abhijit Mukherjee, who represented the party in Lok Sabha on two occasions from West Bengal too joined the Trinamool Congress, while sister Sharmishta decided to quit active politics while remaining a primary member. Sharmishta unsuccessfully contested Delhi Assembly in 2015 and was a spokesperson for the city unit
Another chapter in this exit saga was by former Goa Chief Minister Luizinho who was candid in commenting on the state of drift in the Goa unit of the party. It is another matter the Congress in-charge for the State Dinesh Gundu Rao termed the move as ‘good riddance’.
These changes generate a perception that the grip of party leaders on its affairs is not firm. While political leaders migrating to other parties around elections is considered a normal exercise, the choice of which party one is shifting too makes a difference in creating an overall atmosphere.
Kerala conundrum
Yet, Congress in Kerala does not fit in the electoral politics pattern and that is a clear indication of the malaise within the organisation. Ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s arrival in the State, former Pradesh Congress Chief and five-time MP V M Sudheeran announced he was quitting the All India Congress Committee. The veteran is upset with the ways of current State Congress president K Sudhakaran and Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan, both brought in by the central leadership to keep intense factionalism at bay.
Over the past seven years, the Congress leadership at AICC is still to establish its ability to infuse confidence across the country as a party that can emerge as an alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party. This factor was accentuated after the last Lok Sabha election and a problem compounded by the indecision of Rahul Gandhi on assuming the role as Congress President again.
Patchwork and piecemeal decision-making in the AICC over the past two years may be part of a grand plan that is both invisible and opaque. Appointments across the party organisation through interim president Sonia Gandhi continue amidst the buzz these are arrived at by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Attempts by some senior leaders for a course correction came to naught and in typical old-style politics practiced in the party, the idea is to delay decision thereby allowing some problems to melt away over time while incrementally pushing the envelope in effecting a generational change.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The views expressed are personal.
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