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For Reasons Behind Cong's MP Debacle, a Recap from 2018 Sets Wake-Up Call for RaGa Before More Polls

File photo of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)

File photo of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)

The question ceaselessly doing the rounds in the Congress is when would Rahul start acting as per his political instincts and become a claimant of his own aspiration instead of putting a façade? Party leaders in poll bound Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala are staring in the dark.

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Rasheed Kidwai

The outcome of Madhya Pradesh assembly bypolls has many lessons for the Congress and yet another wake-up call for Rahul Gandhi. The grand old party is yearning for a decisive and accountable leadership – from the top to the bottom.

While some blame of the rather dismal performance is to be shared by MPCC chief and leader of the opposition in the Madhya Pradesh assembly, Kamal Nath, the Congress simply lacked the strength and resources to beat a combined strength of the BJP, Jyotiraditya Scindia and personal charisma of Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Narendra Modi. At the ground level, the contest in 25 out of 28 assembly bypolls was within the Congress if one goes by the December 2018-March 2020 base.

In the midst of Covid-19 pandemic, 25 party MLAs, elected in December 2018, switched over to the BJP, taking away constituency-level workers, social media handlers, their money bags and virtually everything that matters in the electoral politics of the country.

Nath and his team were expected to find replacement for everything that they had lost. But in politics, there is a limit to what can be purchased off the shelf. The defeat of three ministers who had defected, offers little solace or compensation for the Congress as a tally of 126 against 96 in Madhya Pradesh assembly is set to ensure smooth sailing for Chouhan till the remaining term in office, i.e. November 2023.

Rahul and the Congress central leadership need to take a deep breath and reflect upon his doings and un-doings that includes good part of his 17-month long stint as the AICC chief and rest as ‘karta-dharta’ of the Congress. The high command culture, leaving regions to the whims and fancies of regional satraps, the old tricks of pitting one ‘subebar’ against another and a near absence of a quick response system resulted in the collapse of Congress regime in Madhya Pradesh which was earned after a gap of 15 years. An average Congress worker, who had given his blood and sweat for the party, is unable to comprehend how the BJP returned to power with ease and élan.

A quick recap of the events since 2018 till date would explain Congress workers’ sense of loss and bewilderment. In the beginning of 2018 when Rahul was firmly in the seat of power as 87th president of the AICC, poll preparations for Madhya Pradesh assembly began. Jyotiraditya Scindia was a claimant to head the MPCC where a young Arun Yadav was already occupying the post. Scindia’s opponents within the party, Suresh Pachuri, Ajay Singh, Digvijaya Singh and others closed ranks to sound Kamal Nath.

Nath had an open mind to either serve the party as AICC general secretary or explore a stint in state politics, something he had avoided doing during his long electoral successes in Chhindwara since 1980.

Rahul first appointed Nath as AICC general secretary, giving a signal of sorts but soon, Yadav was removed and in May 2018, Nath was made MPCC chief. All along Scindia camp believed that Rahul would consider a younger face as a Congress chief minister. Unlike Punjab, the Congress did not declare a chief ministerial face. Informally, various aspirants were told to ‘put their best’ in the assembly polls and hope for the best.

When the verdict was out in December 2018, Scindia showcased his success in Gwalior-Chambal region claiming that 26 out of 34 seats were won by his supporters. Nath had a near equal number from the Mahakaushal region. Here a decisive political call was required as the Congress had won in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan too.

Instead, the grand old party’s old guard swung in action to oppose enforcement of any criteria. In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, state Congress chiefs were chosen as chief ministers but in Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot was denied even though he had worked as the state party head for the longest time.

Scindia sulked but he was persuaded by Priyanka Gandhi to team up with her for ‘mission Uttar Pradesh’ in 2019 general elections. Scindia’s occupation with UP proved disastrous, drawing blank in the western Uttar Pradesh and losing his own seat in Guna.

Apparently, Scindia was not keen to contest Guna parliamentary seat but Rahul had pushed him pointing that it would be a ‘cake walk.’ A dejected and frustrated Scindia turned his eyes on home state where Digvijaya-Nath-Ajay Singh-Pachouri stonewalled his appointment as MPCC chief. The convention of 'one man, one post' was waived throughout the 15-month-long stint of chief minister Kamal Nath. A combination of pragmatism and opportunism took over Scindia kicking the Congress where it hurt most.

The question ceaselessly doing the rounds in the Congress is when would Rahul start acting as per his political instincts and become a claimant of his own aspiration instead of putting a façade? Party leaders in poll bound Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala are staring in the dark.

Disclaimer:Journalist-commentator Rasheed Kidwai is the author of the soon-to-be-published 'The House of Scindias' by Roli Books. The views expressed here are personal.


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